November 23, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – A paratransit strike affecting Access-A-Ride passengers throughout the city appears far less likely this week following another positive meeting between the head of the union representing call center dispatchers in Queens, and Global Contracting Services [GCS] chief Gregory Alcorn.
Transportation Workers Union [TWU] President John Samuelsen told LaborPress on Monday morning that last week’s meeting with Alcorn was productive, and that he aspects formal contract negotiations between the two sides to resume within a few weeks.
The latest developments are marked departure from the way the Access-A-Ride dispute had been playing out.
Talks between the TWU and the North Carolina-based GCS recently broke down after months of futility in which the union was prohibited from stepping foot on the grounds of the Northern Boulevard call center where Access-A-Ride dispatchers allege widespread worker abuse.
At one point, Samuelsen jeered Alcorn as a “whip-cracker” who was running a “plantation” on Northern Boulevard, and said at the contractor was not living up to its agreement with the MTA, prompting an official investigation into the claims.
Now, however, Samuelsen says that his relationship with Alcorn has grown, and that he will no longer be calling him names.
“There’s a little more of a confidence level I have now in Alcorn’s intentions to settle a contract,” Samuelsen said.
According to Samuelsen, the TWU has been granted access to the Northern Boulevard property and will be able to directly communicate with dispatchers. Further talks between between Samuelsen and Alcorn is also expected.
“These discussions with Alcorn are really designed to get GCS to the point where they commit to come to the bargaining table,” Samuelsen said. “Clear differences had to be ironed out, which I believe we are ironing out.”
Call center dispatchers — an overwhelming majority of them women of color — say that GCS has subjected them to unjustified disciplinary actions and capricious terminations. A class action lawsuit against the company and the MTA was filed in September.
Samuelsen said that much of his recent dialogue with Alcorn revolved around issues of due process.
“Some of the concepts that we brought up where a little foreign to him,” Samuelsen said. “But I think he came to understand what the union is trying to achieve here. And what we’re trying to achieve is workplace justice for dispatchers at GCS.”
The MTA, meanwhile, has yet to conclude its probe into GCS’ conduct, but Samuelsen indicated that the union’s negotiations with Alcorn should figure prominently into that investigation.
“I believe that many of the issues related to discipline and due process and how we view going forward in a reasonable manner will satisfy some of the issues the MTA board is investigating,” Samuelsen said.