Saturday, January 24, 2009

How to Rebuild TWU Local 100-by Steve Downs

On December 23,2008 President Toussaint sent the MTA/TWU 2009 contract to arbitration without any input from anyone.The question was asked by members all over the system what can we do about this?I think comrade Steve lays out an excellent blue print for us to follow but are the members of TWU Local 100 up to the the task of Taking Back Our Union.

from Steve Downs, Chair, T/O Division of TWU Local 100

1. Organize to defend ourselves on the job. The union's and the members' fates are ultimately determined by how well organized we are on the job day in and day out. Whether the problem is winning a good contract, dealing with abusive supervisors, mobilizing members to vote, correcting unreasonable schedules, or challenging the mayor or governor's call for cuts, if the members are well organized, we are more likely to achieve our goals. Unfortunately, in most parts of the system, the members are less organized now than they were 8 years ago. A big part of this is the union officers' fault, but part of it is the membership's fault.Following the union election in 2000, members on the job let their networks wither as they looked to the new union leadership for solutions to their problems. For a couple years, the officers tried to meet that challenge. Then the union stopped training stewards and Toussaint has denied elected reps the authority to represent the members who elected them. When Toussaint abandoned the worksites and concentrated the union's resources at the union hall, the members weren't in a position to step in and fill the void.A priority for anyone who cares about the future of our union, our contracts, and being able to survive 25 or 30 years on the job, is to build strong organizations on the job. Union resources need to be shifted toward officer training, steward training, developing stewards' councils, and working with members to identify and solve problems on the job.A strong union presence is part of the solution, but it's not everything. Members need to pull together even when a union rep is not available. Learn the rules and apply them to your advantage. Enforce safety regulations. Back each other up when someone is being harassed by a supervisor. Tight organization on the job, so that management and the union leadership both know that the members have the willingness and the ability to disrupt service, is our best defense against a bad contract or a bad ruling from the arbitrator.

2. Hold your elected reps accountable. Holding someone accountable is another way of saying, don't accept excuses. At the January Executive Board meeting, Toussaint was asked why he didn't let the Board decide whether or not to send the contract to binding arbitration. He replied that he didn't because he didn't have to. When he was asked what issues had been agreed to and what the arbitrator would be ruling on, he refused to answer, saying that it might effect the outcome of the arbitration. Management knows what's going to be in front of the arbitrator, why shouldn't the Local Executive Board? For that matter, why shouldn't we? (Has anyone else noticed that, despite his support for Obama, Toussaint's model of how to be a president is George W. Bush? Bush refused to give information to Congress; Toussaint refuses to give it to the Executive Board. Bush lied about the reasons for an ill-prepared war; Toussaint lied about the reasons for an ill-prepared strike. Can't you picture Toussaint standing at a podium refusing to explain his actions, saying, "I'm the decider"?)Every member of the Executive Board should be asked why he or she didn't make a motion ordering Toussaint to explain what issues remain to be resolved by the arbitrator – or be suspended from office. Why didn't they pass a motion overruling the declaration of impasse and the decision to seek arbitration? Those are just a few examples of the actions or inactions our officers need to be held accountable for.

3. We also have to hold each other accountable and reject the excuses we tell ourselves and each other. Do you know anyone who said they weren't paying dues because they didn't support Toussaint? Well, Toussaint survived, he's collecting their dues again, and he can ignore them because they're not in good standing. What's their excuse for not paying their back dues now? Or how about those people who didn't pay dues saying that the union doesn't do anything them? Did a single one of them go to management and say, "just pay me what you think I'm worth", or "I don't need to pick, just assign me where you need me", or "let me know how much vacation you think I deserve and when I should take it"? No, not a single one. They were just making excuses. If you're reading this and you haven't paid your dues, what's your excuse?Don't believe the person who says they don't get involved because it won't make any difference. Whether you attend union meetings, do safety inspections, come out for rallies, become a steward or, most important, work with your co-workers to correct problems on the job, you'll be making a difference.Don't accept excuses from those who don't vote. The 2005 contract was initially rejected by 7 votes. In 2006, the race for Local 100 VP from Car Equipment was rerun because the first vote ended in a tie. The 2008 Senate race in Minnesota was decided by about 250 votes. There is no excuse for working under unsafe conditions. Anyone who points out an unsafe condition makes a difference. Everyone who backs that person up makes a difference.

4. Those who argue that it won't make any difference if they get involved have gotten a lot of reinforcement from the Toussaint administration. By ignoring the decision of the members to reject the 2005 contract, altering the election rules, removing elected officers and stewards on trumped charges, refusing to allow the members to elect replacements to vacant VP spots, refusing to report fully on the progress of contract talks, and sending the contract to binding arbitration, Toussaint and his supporters on the Executive Board have severely damaged the commitment of members to the union and their willingness to get involved.We need to become a union run by its rank and file members. Any measures that move us away from that goal should be rejected. We want officers who will seek out measures that will bring us closer to that goal.The current Board can't undo the decision to ignore the contract vote in 2006, but they can make sure that the election rules in 2009 guarantee that officers are elected with the support of a majority of the voters. They can take steps to make sure the members vote on any new contract and to remove Toussaint from office if he refuses to comply with their decisions.The Board can restore elected officers to the duties they were elected to perform. And they can broaden the choices that will be available to the members at election time. A few officers who were late making a dues payment were not only removed from their office, they are barred from running for office for three years. The excuse given was that officers have to set an example. But no member who refused to pay dues did so because some officer was a week or two late with their dues. The removal of these officers was motivated by partisan maneuvering and does not serve the interest of the membership. The Executive Board should restore the right to run to those officers who are currently denied it. In addition, the Board should request a waiver from the national union to enable all members in good standing to run for office. The loss of dues check-off was an exceptional event that was not contemplated when the union's constitution was drafted. Someone who is in good-standing, but whose payments were late once or twice should not be treated the same as someone who refused to pay dues. The unintended consequence of this rule is to bar the overwhelming majority of members of the Local from being able to run for office. That does not serve the interest of increasing membership involvement in, and rank and file control over, the union. Or, instead of holding the union election in June, the Board could vote to return the union election to the end of the year. This would greatly increase the number of members eligible to run, it would ensure that the election doesn't take place before the arbitrator's award is issued, and it would avoid the absurd situation of waiting 6 months after the voting to count the ballots.

5. In the union's relationship with management, there are no "win-win" outcomes. The MTA, the governor, and the mayor all want us to work harder and get less in wages and/or benefits. They want new hires to work longer before they can collect a pension. The union's objectives should be that we get more in wages and benefits and work at a pace that will enable us to survive the job and collect our pensions for years and years. Our objectives are incompatible with our bosses'. Early last year, Toussaint welcomed the kinder, gentler approach of the new MTA head. He endorsed the MTA's "workforce development" plans. Similar schemes have unfolded in the private sector. It's clear that they are just sugar-coating the same old push for productivity and speed-up. We need to reject all talk about "partnership" between workers and management. We do not have any goals in common with our bosses.

6. There are no quick fixes. There are no shortcuts. Electing union officers who support this approach will help, but members must make it happen with or without them. Building rank and file power on the job and in our union will not solve all of our problems. But it's hard to see how our problems will be solved without it. And it is the only way to make sure that we hold onto the gains we make. If any of this makes sense to you and you're ready to start making it happen, or if you just want to get a deeper understanding of the suggestions I've made, please get in touch.-- Steve DownsChair, T/O Division of TWU 100

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