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Fliers From Transit Union Draw on Class Distinctions

"Fliers From Transit Union Draw on Class Distinctions"
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE | The New York Times | October 06, 1999 | View Original

Class warfare has largely disappeared from New York's labor scene, but the Transit Workers Union has embraced it with a vengeance in its campaign for a new contract.

The union, representing 35,000 subway and bus workers, is distributing hundreds of thousands of copies of a novel leaflet with a cartoon of a huge, furry, fat cat dressed in a charcoal pin-striped suit and holding a fistful of hundred-dollar bills.

In militant language more common in the 1930's than the 1990's, the leaflets insist that Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Gov. George E. Pataki have starved the transit system of funds by giving billions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations, an act deemed ''corporate welfare.''

The leaflets, which are being distributed under front doors and at subway stops, call for an end to ''feeding the fat cats and subsidizing welfare cheats in corporate suites.''

Willie James, president of Local 100 of the Transit Workers Union, said his union hired a well-known public relations consultant, Ray Rogers, to turn up the heat on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and on the Mayor and the Governor, who have a large say in its operations.

Mr. Rogers is famous for his strident language and hard-hitting techniques. Mr. James said that the union was paying him $100,000 to run the campaign and that printing 1 million leaflets would cost another $100,000.

''I was interested in a different approach,'' said Mr. James, who is facing complaints from many union members that their current contract gave them skimpy raises. ''I knew I had to get the attention of the riding public and all parties concerned to show we're serious about getting a fair and just contract.''

The union began distributing the leaflets this week, a few days after Mr. James threatened that transit workers might strike when their contract expires on Dec. 15. Under New York State law, it is illegal for public employees to strike, but Mr. James recognizes that city officials fear a December strike because it could cause chaos during the peak shopping season.

Mr. James said the union, whose members have an average salary of $39,000 a year, was intent on receiving a larger raise than it got in the current contract: a single raise of 3.75 percent. He is trying to build public support for the union, asserting that with the city, state and transit authority enjoying surpluses and an economic boom, transit workers should receive their fair share.