“New Directions” Caucus Leads Transit Workers Union Action

N.Y. Bus Strikers See What a Difference a Militant Leadership Makes

by Charles Walker

After just a single day on strike, some 700 drivers, mechanics, and cleaners located in Westchester County, New York, won startling concessions from their bosses who operate the Liberty Lines and Bee-Line bus systems. The victory is a clear measure of just how badly the transport workers were served by their previous officials, voted out of office a few months ago. The new leaders, members of the New Directions caucus in Transport Workers Union Local 100, which also represents 33,000 bus and subway workers in New York City, set their sights on winning parity for the strikers with the New York City membership. A report in the People’s Weekly World (March 17) indicates that the strikers took a giant step toward that goal.

The paper reports: “The Bee-Line workers won 4 percent raises in each of the first three years of a four year contract. In the final year they will receive two more increases, which will bring them even” with New York City’s transit workers. The Liberty Lines strikers “won an immediate 2.5 percent wage increase with a guarantee that this would be increased to match whatever is in the Queens, N.Y. negotiations…”

“Workers for both lines won an immediate 28 percent increase in pensions plus an average 6 percent cost of living adjustment for current retirees, ranging from 45 percent for those who retired in 1983 or earlier, to 5 percent for those who retired in 1999, a minimum of $500 for each retiree. Company contributions to the [health fund] will increase 51%, from the current $540 per employee per month, to $814 in 2004.”

At a strike rally of more than 1,000, the union’s president said that the strikers were not just trying to keep up with rising living costs, but were “trying to emerge from slavery…retirees living in poverty…no differential for night and weekend work…no paid sick time…We are simply asking for things that are standard throughout the industry.”

The new leadership’s willingness to use the strike weapon, inconveniencing 55,000 Bronx and Westchester bus riders, and the size of the settlement would seem to promise a much tougher time in 2002 for New York’s transit bosses, accustomed to a collaborationist union officialdom.

The New York Post reported (March 2) on the new leadership’s relationship to the ranks. “Local 100’s new leaders were quick to back the Westchester workers’ strike call. One union observer said the leadership decision ‘sends out a signal that if they are pushed, they are not going to hold the rank and file back.’ ”