2002-07-17 / Editorials


Mayor Mike, End the Strike!

As legions of footsore and cash-strapped Queens residents are well aware, the strike by 1,500 drivers of three of the seven private bus lines that service the borough is well into its third week and shows no sign of ending any time soon. Riders are having to use their hard-earned money to find other sources of transportation or are staying home from work, shopping and recreational activities altogether. Whichever choice they make, the borough's economy has suffered a serious blow.

We wonder how many of the working poor have lost jobs since June 17, when the members of Transport Workers Union Local 100 hit the bricks. How many mom-and-pop stores, as well as their larger counterparts, have seen their revenues drop over the course of the past month? How many recreational programs and entertainment venues have seen substantial decreases in ticket sales and audience numbers? The effects of the strike are spreading daily and will be felt for months to come.

The bus owners whose drivers staged the walkout--who have been working without a contract for 18 months and have not had a raise in almost three years--are franchised and subsidized by the city under contracts let by the city Department of Transportation. A tentative agreement between the drivers and the bus companies reached after a brief walkout in February has yet to be approved by the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The city initially hesitated to approve the agreement because it would bring about an increase in employer contributions to workers' health benefit funds.

According to Roger Toussaint, head of East Elmhurst-based TWU Local 100, the city agreed to a funding formula providing for health benefits which included two annual increases of 11.8 and 8 percent, respectively. Now, however, he claims, the Bloomberg administration would reduce the benefits increase to 1.4 percent the first year of a two-year contract and 2 percent for the second year. The failure to win an agreement along the lines of the earlier stipulations "is the beginning of a prolonged struggle," Toussaint declared.

City Councilmember Hiram Monserrate contends that the health benefit funding increase originally proposed would add a minuscule one percent to the subsidies the city provides the seven bus lines. City Councilmember Tony Avella agreed, pointing out that previous health benefit increases have not been adequate to fund health and welfare benefits when soaring health care costs are factored in.

Avella heads the council zoning and franchises committee, which holds sway over the bus company franchises. The council has no jurisdiction in the contract negotiations, he pointed out, but is exerting pressure on the Bloomberg administration to end the strike. The health care issue appeared to be settled over the weekend when Borough President Helen Marshall convinced Bloomberg to lend the union $2 million to cover the increasing cost of health benefits. Now, however, union members claim the question is one of job security. On Sunday night some 100 TWU members stormed out of a meeting where the new plan was being discussed, declaring "We want job protection now!"

Avella compares the strike, which has affected more than 100,000 Queens residents, to a snowstorm during the administration of then Mayor John V. Lindsay, during which streets in Queens went unplowed while those in other boroughs were cleared rapidly. "We depend on bus service. The borough was underserved by mass transit before the strike," he declared.

We find ourselves in agreement. Queens depends on bus service. Private buses and cabs authorized by the city to operate along the 42 routes affected by the strike are simply not sufficient to compensate. Whatever the issues, the Bloomberg administration must reach an equitable compromise that both parties to the strike can agree upon. "Queens has suffered enough," Avella has declared. He's right. Nothing can be gained by allowing the strike to remain unsettled. Mayor Bloomberg must end this devastating walkout as soon as possible. Avella said it: Queens has suffered enough.

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