With talks with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority set to open tomorrow, the transit workers union has kicked off its campaign for a new contract by hiring a labor consultant with expertise in down-and-dirty fighting with corporate fat cats.
Ray Rogers, who won fame for his so-called corporate campaigns against companies such as J.P. Stevens and Hormel Foods, says he wants to enlist the riding public on the side of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union.
"The transit system is the economic engine of this city, and it's in the interests of every New Yorker to make sure the system is run well and workers are fairly compensated," said Rogers.
He said transit workers will go door-to-door to distribute a million copies of a four-page flyer that takes aim at government tax policies that shortchange straphangers.
MTA spokesman Tom Kelly declined to comment on the union's tactics. "We're just getting ready for contract talks," he said.
The launching of the public campaign comes days after Local 100 President Willie James said he is prepared to strike to win pay hikes, improved benefits and better safety conditions for his 35,000 members.
"I am doing everything in my power to prevent a strike," said James. "But sometimes you got to do what you got to do to make it clear that you demand fair treatment."
The state's Taylor Law prohibits transit workers from striking. When the union struck for 11 days in 1980, members were docked two days' pay for each day on the picket line.
The transit workers' contract is the first of a successive round of upcoming bargaining talks over the next year covering teachers, cops and municipal employees.
The transit negotiations "will help set the pattern for 300,000 workers and their families," said Rogers.
It's unclear how big a war chest will be available for the contract campaign. Union officials said that about $200,000 has been set aside, with about $100,000 allocated to Rogers' efforts. Last summer, the membership overwhelmingly rejected a $50-per-member assessment aimed at funding a planned $2 million public relations drive.
"We went with Ray instead," said Tom Cassano, an aide to James. "He offered us a more corporate-targeted campaign. He will also help us raise more funds from other unions."
Rogers, 55, is known for waging tough campaigns that often target individual members of management. In the late 1970s, he targeted directors of the board of textile giant J.P. Stevens & Co. in a successful effort to win contracts for the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers.