Subway workers rally for Thompson, and against Lhota

Thompson and Samuelsen. (Dana Rubinstein)
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The union representing the vast majority of New York City subway and bus workers today endorsed former comptroller Bill Thompson for mayor, and attacked former M.T.A. chairman Joe Lhota, who is seeking the Republican nomination.

"Lhota can't get our endorsement," said T.W.U. Local 100 president John Samuelsen today at City Hall.

It wasn't that long ago that Samuelsen's spokesman had occasion to speak relatively warmly of Lhota, describing him during his brief chairmanship as a "more politic" leader than his M.T.A. predecessor, Jay Walder.

Hurricane Sandy changed things.

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Lhota, as chairman of the M.T.A., docked the pay of workers who didn't show up the day before the hurricane (when the system was shut down), and the day after, when the city was largely impassable. 

"So if you lived in the Bronx and you worked in lower Manhattan and you had no way to get to work because the system was shut down, Lhota made a determination that he would not pay people, even though he shut the system down," said Samuelsen today, adding, "For that alone he would never get our endorsement."

Samuelsen has other issues with Lhota, too, like the amount of credit Lhota got for the speedy resurrection of the transit system after the hurricane. 

"If he's taken any credit, he's taking too much credit," said Samuelsen. "Everybody knows, including Lhota, that we're the ones who put the system back together."

(For the record, in public Lhota is always quick to credit subway workers.)

Also, Samuelsen said, "Lhota made no good faith effort to settle a contract with us."

The union's contract expired in January 2012.

Samuelsen said that Thompson, as mayor, would use the office to assist in certain union aims including the restoration of service cuts, an increase in the city's contributions to the M.T.A.'s budget, the re-hiring of tollbooth clerks, and of course, the union's fight "for a fair contract."

It's worth noting that the mayor of New York City has very little control over the M.T.A., which is largely managed by the state.

He or she can, however, use his bully pulpit for certain ends. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for example, used his position to advocate (unsuccessfully) for congestion pricing in Albany. 

Thompson has promised to advocate the reinstatement of a tax on commuters instead, even though it's exceedingly unlikely to happen, since it would require Albany legislators to approve a tax on their own constituents for the benefit of mass transit in New York City.

Samuelsen said the union would run independent expenditures for Thompson.

Asked if he would run any ads against Lhota, Samuelsen said, "Certainly if Lhota is the mayoral candidate, we're not gonna be shy about in talking about what we perceive as his weaknesses."

Lhota's spokesman Jessica Proud said, in a statement, "Joe has enormous respect for the hard-working men and women of the transit authority. He always says the credit for restoring the subways system after Hurricane Sandy belongs to the workers. What they accomplished was nothing short of a miracle."