July 2, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Governor Andrew Cuomo may or may not heed the plea of union leaders to intervene in their stalemate with the MTA, but the Teamster who is running to topple the high-powered incumbent is already vowing to join the picket line if a Long Island Rail Road strike is called this summer.
Howie Hawkins, Green Party candidate for New York State governor, supports the wage and benefit proposals that unions representing LIRR workers advocate – and charges that the governor’s fiscal policies have actually contributed to the current impasse.
"This is just part of Cuomo's long running attack on the pay and benefits of workers,” Hawkins says. “His tax cuts for the rich, banks and hedge funds, combined with his raids on MTA funding, puts the MTA into the position where they try to squeeze both workers and commuters.”
According to Hawkins, the the MTA would not even be experiencing fiscal problems now if the state had restored former levels of funding for the transportation agency.
"By underfunding the MTA, the Governor is forcing the MTA to borrow on the bond market, making it just another ATM for Wall Street banks," Hawkins says. "If the state restored the commuter tax the Democrats killed in 1999 in trying to win a lower Hudson Valley special state Senate election, the city could restore its former levels of MTA funding. The increased revenues could be used to meet the reasonable demands of the LIRR workers, to lower fares, and improve service.”
The MTA is offering workers a 17 percent raise over seven years. But the unions representing LIRR workers want a 17 percent increase over six years. They also maintain that the MTA’s latest offer hurts newer and younger employees who would have to pay more into their health care and pensions, while also seeing their climb up the pay scale slowed.
The current contract expires July 20. After that, workers could decide to strike.
"Fortunately, LIRR is governed by the Federal Railroad Administration, not the state's Taylor Law for other public employees,” Hawkins says. “So, the workers can strike for their rights without draconian fines, which gives them more leverage.”
Hawkins, 61, is a Teamster with Local 317. He attended Dartmouth College and has been a social justice active for much of his life. He first challenged Cuomo under the Green Party banner back in 2010, and ran for the United States Senate as a Green in 2006. During that time he also worked as a UPS packages handler in Syracuse, New York.
In addition to supporting LIRR workers in their stalled negotiations with the MTA, Hawkins says that the MTA board must be reformed to include riders and transit workers – “not just representatives of the financial elite who make money in the bond markets at the expense of the MTA.”
As an advocate for single-payer healthcare, Hawkins also contends that a move to a “Medicare-for-all” system would eliminate the health care issue from future labor disputes.
Governor Cuomo, meanwhile, says that a LIRR strike would be very “damaging,” and that he only wants a “fair resolution” to the current stalemate between workers and the MTA.