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Roger Toussaint sounds off before retirement

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 4/26/2012, 12:26 p.m.

After decades on the job and serving his union, the former president of Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 is officially retiring.

Last week, Roger Toussaint announced that he had filed his retirement papers with the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Toussaint, who turned 55 last November, now has the age and time in to retire from the MTA. His last day on the job will be May 1.

As Toussaint looks back at his career as both a union worker and labor union leader, there is a high degree of satisfaction.

"I was elected to the presidency three times," he said in a recent interview with the AmNews. "The most important accomplishment was the 2005 strike that prevented the imposition of a Tier 6 pension plan on transit workers. Now that pension plan has been implemented seven years later. It seems to me that means something. That's not small potatoes."

Toussaint faced great pressure back in 2005, when his union workers went on strike. It was the first major strike by public employees in decades, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg and much of the white-owned media mobilized against the transit workers. Many felt at the time the anti-union sentiment was grounded in the fact that the majority of the transit workers were Black and Brown people.

As Toussaint looks at the current political and labor landscape, he told the AmNews he is disappointed by how TWU's leaders have handled the current labor situations. He felt that the union lost a golden opportunity by not aligning its better with the Occupy Wall Street movement and other significant labor and social movements out of state.

"Despite the battle cry of Wisconsin and the Occupy Wall Street movement, which provided an opportunity for a second wind in the labor movement to deal with their weaknesses, I don't think it was done successfully at all," said Toussaint. "The state of things in New York is an indication considering that New York is a union town. When you think of union towns, New York would be among a handful, including Detroit. And if you look at what's going on in New York in respect to what [New York Gov. Andrew] Cuomo and [New York City Mayor Michael] Bloomberg have been able to get away with of late, it says something about the state of affairs. What it says is not a good thing."

The view that Toussaint paints of the labor movement in New York City, and in particular TWU Local 100, is the result of the leadership of union President John Samuelsen. Toussaint blames Samuelsen for hurting his constituents when they needed him to help them.

"As far as Local 100 goes, I have been paying a great deal of attention to them giving the impression of being member-oriented," Toussaint said. "Lots of attention on social media and manipulating the image of the union, but very little in the way of substance, and that price is being paid by way of these negotiations [for a new labor contract]." Toussaint accused Samuelsen of hinging a new labor deal on his relationship with MTA executive Joe Lhota.

"I don't think he's gonna last past the year," Toussaint said when asked about Samuelsen's job. "The contract fight is in deep trouble, and he has put them in an almost intractable position. There have been more setbacks just in his first year in administrating than I can recall in my 27 years on the job."

Toussaint said he endorses Car Equipment Division Chair Joseph Campbell for TWU Local 100 president, but the former president had one more piece of advice for his former constituents.

"They have one opportunity to reclaim Local 100 and salvage the gains that have been made in the past decade," Toussaint said. "And the way to do that is to clean house in Local 100 in the upcoming election. They need to defend their own legacy. It's being trampled upon by Samuelsen's administration."