Monday, December 16, 2002

The Knuckle and The Hammer 12.15.02

I suppose topics for today could involve the brutality of man. Religious responsibility and Boston’s ex-Cardinal Law. Or the ridiculousness of the transit strike.

I was going to step away from all three topics and scribble something inconsequential. Like something about that ridiculous yammer mouthed young lady from last night’s Schmarley gathering.

I should have been sleeping instead of listening to someone talk in a high pitch about:
* some British boy,
* the wonder of the bar Down the Hatch,
* some other things I was trying hard not to pollute my virgin ears with.
I should have been sleeping instead of listening to the new Ghostface album in Arroz’ whip late last night, before I realized I was real drunk and had slept three hours the night before.

I was glad for the ride home. It’s a long and rolling journey between there and here. Up and around Queens or down and around Brooklyn, through suburban lengths lined by lights. I slept in my home but I am still tired; but I was awake enough to see the counter press conferences by Bloomberg/ Pataki and then by Transit Workers‘ Union President Roger Toussaint.

I was impressed with this press conference for a couple of reasons. The blatant hypocrisy of having given the firemen a 15% raise and then offering other essential workers of the city, of a service more of us use and a service we use more often, nothing. Though fire protection is essential, so is transit.

Bloomberg/ Pataki gave us reasons to believe that the union is doing bad things, and it is illegal to use your employee leverage-- withholding your work product-- ask for concessions from your management. The duo told us that we are in this together.

According to Patakaerg, the MTA is working in “good faith” to present a reasonable offer with an understanding that there is a tight fiscal environment. Bloomberg told us that we’re just going to have to ride our bikes, and that maybe people will die (thanks for the throwaway comment, Mike! This is due to the traffic congestion. By the way.), all in that pleasantly nasal voice and through the gritted teeth.

Amazing. In contrast, I was seduced by TWU’s president. Toussaint, in the face of disparaging, dirty-underwear-in-face commentary from our Governor and our mayor, in the face of public loathing (we really cannot handle getting around the city without subways), stood tall. In a gentle Trinidadian accent, he delivered his speech. Measured tones. Confidence. One simple expression.

He calmly explained a few things that I had not even heard. Their concerns for safety issues. The fact that the MTA has not opened their books to either the union or the city comptroller. The prescription benefits the TWU workers lose when they retire. The mention that their workers are disciplined at higher rates than comparable organizations (other city units?) across the nation.

Again, it was not even the fact. It was the feeling. These come off like simple requests-- for honesty, for good faith, for some sense of equality. For a measure of decent benefits. A request for transparency. The good faith that the MTA speaks about was questioned-- knowing the contract would be up at the end of the year, why wait until after the elections to start with the offers?

The way Toussaint spoke, he won me over. It is not the evil man who is taking away our subways. Really, the evil men who are taking our subways might be our elected officials; might be their appointed leaders; might be the insistence on not stepping into the fray. Though they step in enough to mention with a wagging fatherly finger that strikes are illegal, children! So exactly what’s illegal or bad faith for the other side?

While we are, as Mayor Bloomberg warbles “go to sleep, preparing for the worst,” and as he sleeps and prepares to be filmed on his bicycle (Mayor, will you subsidize my new vehicle?) let’s hope there is no strike and if there is one… it is short and deals are made before we have our inter-city wrestle fest in cars, and on buses, on commuter vans, and on our new bikes… in the snow.

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