April 24, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn, NY – The contract deal boosting transit workers' pay 8 percent retroactively over five years has been a long time coming – but much of the job convincing the union’s 34,000 members that they should now actually vote for the package has fallen to a former bus operator who only recently stepped out from behind the wheel and skyrocketed straight into the union leadership’s “top four.” Thanks, in part, to a special training program that is consistently producing some of the most influential labor leaders in the city today.
Transportation Workers Union [TWU] Local 100 Recording Secretary LaTonya Crisp-Sauray, 41, has between now and June to help impress upon the union membership that the retroactive 1 percent raises they’ve won going back to 2012, along with a two percent annual salary increase through 2016, is an agreement that should be ratified. But after graduating from the NY State AFL-CIO/Cornell Union Leadership Institute, it's a task she feels well prepared to tackle.
“We’re going out and talking to the members, getting feedback, engaging in conversation and taking the hits whether we like it or not,” the recording-secretary told LaborPress this week. “This is all hands on deck.”
Achieving a consensus and resolving conflicts while also galvanizing political support and building bridges across different sectors are all skills that the Long Island mother of two frist honed at the Union Leadership Institute's year-long program.
The initiatve helps emerging union leaders like Crisp-Sauray develop the diverse attributes needed to become effective advocates for today’s working men and women.
Crisp-Sauray spent 2012 enrolled in the program and graduated last year. Rising up through the ranks and becoming a central figure in TWU Local 100’s leadership, however, was not what the Bed-Stuy product had in mind 15 years ago when she initially started driving a bus for the MTA.
“Absolutely not,” Crisp-Sauray said. “When I came in, I just wanted do my job, get my check and go home. I was looking for security and benefits. I wanted to retire one day and have a pension, and raise my children. Those were my main goals.”
Somewhere along the way, however, while working out of the Fresh Pond and later Flatbush bus depots, people started recognizing Crisp-Sauray’s obvious attributes as a union representative. And in the last five years – buoyed by her Union Leadership Institute training – Crisp-Sauray has taken that confidence and risen to a position that is helping to chart the future of the entire TWU Local.
“I’ve never met so many politicians in my life,” the recording-secretary said. “Now, I understand the power of politics. I understand the difference between the two [major] parities. And I understand the importance of having to talk to each side to get what you want. I’ve also learned that it takes a coalition because we can’t do it as one union – or only a union. We need the entire community. We’re all in this together.”
As an active member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and NAACP, Crisp-Sauray also dedicates much of her considerable energies helping to uplift other women and minorities inside and outside the TWU's ranks.
“Even though there are a substantial amount of women [on the job], we’re still outnumbered by the amount of men in the depot – and there are still some divisions where there aren’t any women at all,” the recording-secretary said.
Crisp-Sauray’s message to women, and workers in general, is simple: there is plenty of room to grow within the MTA.
“This system is big,“ Crisp-Sauray said.”You can move around. You don’t have to stay put.”
In addition to the salary bump, the contract deal recently struck between the MTA and the union includes an enhanced medical benefits as well as two weeks maternity and paternity leave – all elements that should have wide appeal among the rank and file. But the MTA's rank and file is diverse, and their interests somewhat vary among different generations.
As a Generation Xer, Crisp-Sauray has discovered that one of the biggest challenges she's encountered as recording-secretary has been trying to successfully span the divide between the TWU's Baby Boomers and Millennials – two disparate age groups that often have varying desires and concerns when it comes to issues like overtime pay and retirement packages.
“I’m that person that’s in between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials,” Crisp-Sauray said. “And sometimes you need that bridge so that one party can understand the other party’s needs. Trying to pull these things together takes a masterpiece of work.”
It's exactly the kind of work that Crisp-Sauray learned to tackle at the Union Leadership Institute.
“Everybody wants their department to be better than the other,” the recording-secretary said. “It’s more about a collaborative understanding that we’re still a union. Yes, we have separate issues, but we have to come together at a certain point to do the best that we can for all the members.”