Log in  |  Search

Hot Coffee for Cold New Yorkers

Every freezing morning of the transit strike members of the UFT, along with brothers in Local 3 (the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and the Central Labor Council stood at the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge dispensing free “hot coffee for cold New Yorkers” who had just finished their trek across the bridge. We also gave steaming cups of Joe to office workers, cops, neighborhood residents, striking brothers and sisters of the TWU, the press, bemused tourists, as well as teachers, school secretaries and a student or two. The Red Cross was also there with hot beverages so thanks to them too.

Especially gratifying were the overwhelmingly positive reactions of the public to this union effort and the show of support many gave to the TWU workers nearby. I know there are those who will pooh-pooh this sort of thing as a “public relations stunt” but when you are cold and tired and sometimes angry and it is a member of a union who hands you a hot cup of coffee I believe that it is not only hands and bodies that we warm but also hearts and minds. One gentleman informed me that the coffee wasn’t really free as his wife is a teacher and her union dues paid for the coffee. I’m sure his wife would agree that it was money well spent.

We met a group of young teachers from Facing History High School, a new small school at the Park West Campus on 50th and 8th. (And boy-oh-boy, were they facing history and a cold northwest wind.) They had walked from Carroll Gardens and stopped by for coffee and a chat before continuing uptown to the school. As all good teachers are, they were ready with an open ended question to motivate accountable talk, even if the motivation was a forbidden teachable moment that was not congruent with the flow of the day chart. Inspired, no doubt by all the talk of pensions that emerged from reporting of the transit strike, they asked if someone could come up to their school and talk to them as many new members were confused about the pension system,. Obviously their concern about their well-being, their retirement and their future shows that these teachers are indicative of your typical greedy, blood-on-their-hands, extortionist, thug, lazy, pampered, hypocritical union rat members (all adjectives courtesy of the New York Post), and furthermore they care nothing about kids as millions of other New Yorkers walked miles to work in frigid temperatures so anybody would have done it. A UFT pension speaker will be at the school early in 2006.

There was the rare “Go back to work” or similar invective hurled at the striking TWU workers (and by extension us) or the raised middle finger in our direction (and the person wasn’t driving either) but mercifully little of that. Not that we couldn’t take it.

But back to pensions as this became the issue of the strike. In 1968, when many workers, public and private had pensions, Senator Edward Kennedy noted, in his eulogy for his slain brother Robert, ” he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: ‘Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.'” Once upon a time many American workers had in addition to real pensions, real health plans, real wages and a real hope for their future and that of their children. Now we are dreaming of things that were, and were good, and instead of saying “why not for all” we are listening without questioning to those who say “too expensive” “not competitive with the new world economy” “should not be an entitlement” “will bankrupt the country” and “they will greet us with open arms.” Guess we’ll just have to keep asking the question “why not?” until we get some accountable talk from those in power, especially the elected ones and those who give us their version of the news. And in all areas. But back to the bridge.

A highlight every morning was the daily photo op of the Mayor’s disembarkation on Manhattan Island following his well protected voyage across the bridge surrounded by a bubble of security on land and sea and air. He’d stop, make some comments to reporters and then a flying wedge of followers would whisk him into City Hall. Sorry Mike, but Ed Koch still gets the award for bridge theatrics. Take a lesson from him. And on the other side of the bridge, take some small group tutoring from the always bubbly but never “bubbled” Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz who offered hot chocolate, hot coffee, hot tea and, “For this relief much thanks: ’tis bitter cold” warm restrooms in Brooklyn Borough Hall. And yes, had the Mayor stopped by before vanishing into City Hall we would have given him a cup of union brewed coffee, and a strong cup it is, too.



  • 1 NYC Educator
    · Dec 27, 2005 at 1:16 pm

    I’d like to applaud the bold Mr. Coletti for telling us what a great job Unity is doing. Your complete silence during the actaul strike did not bother me at all.

    That’s just one reason I’m absolutely certain you’re at least 30% more valuable than any lowly teacher. That’s doubtless why we drones at the UFT paid you over 107K in 2004, and doubtless pay you more now.

    We’ll keep you in mind as we patrol cafeterias, teach six classes, and enjoy our greatly diminished rights. Please keep up your great work.

  • 2 mvplab
    · Dec 27, 2005 at 6:20 pm

    NYC Educator:
    Silly! Why is this a UNITY thing? Other caucuses supported the striking workers, too!

  • 3 Chaz
    · Dec 27, 2005 at 7:20 pm

    Just what I wanted to see, another Unity non-teaching educrat showing me what a wonderful union we are.

    Where was Mr. Coletti during the UFT contract sellout of the classroom teacher? Oh yes, he was probably too busy counting his six figure salary while subjecting the classroom teacher to increasing non-professional duties, which of cause he does not have to do!!!!

    I have no respect for people who have little understanding of the classroom who think (wrongly) that they know what’s right for us.

  • 4 paulrubin
    · Dec 27, 2005 at 11:32 pm

    A valuable lesson shoujld be learned here. Unless you’re prepared to stay out 2 full weeks, please don’t embarrass yourselves and strike. The TWU’s settlement not only is financially in many respects than the last offer from the MTA, by going 37 months, they wipe away their bargaining position for the next contract in one fell swoop. A total embarrassment. And that’s for a union with the power to mess up the city. Teachers could be on strike for a month and nobody would notice.

  • 5 mvplab
    · Dec 28, 2005 at 4:01 am

    Strikes are not the only answer. We have to be smarter! Let’s fight to reform the Taylor Law. By the way, which union will serve us hot coffee? Or, iced tea?

  • 6 no_slappz
    · Dec 28, 2005 at 11:51 am

    Let’s see. The transit union leaders almost unanimously accepted the MTA contract. The deal they accepted was almost identical to the deal they were offered before the strike.

    Moreover, for gaining no meaningful ground, the union and its members will pay fines that will offset part of their first-year gains.

    In other words, the Transit Workers Union suffers from incompetent leadership.

  • 7 NYC Educator
    · Dec 28, 2005 at 12:00 pm

    I’m not sure the strike was a total waste. The TWU received a few significant sweeteners that were not given much notice by the mainstream press.

    Who knows if that would’ve occurred otherwise?

  • 8 NYC Educator
    · Dec 28, 2005 at 12:02 pm

    Sorry, that link is no good. But basically, consider this:

    1. TWU workers will now have lifetime health care. While they will pay back 1.5% of their salaries to cover it, they will now be able to retire at 55 without waiting till Medicare eligibility kicks in, a significant improvement.

    2. Tier 3 and 4 members had to contribute 5.3% for several years toward reducing the retirement age to 55. This was later reduced to 2%. I’m told many TWU members will now receive refunds between 8-20K.

  • 9 firebrand
    · Dec 28, 2005 at 1:35 pm

    I am amazed that the Unity party supported the striking TWU workers but made a point of discouraging TEACHERS from striking.

    It smacks of hypocrisy.

  • 10 Schoolgal
    · Dec 28, 2005 at 4:08 pm


    Now we get to post our comments on the strike AFTER it’s settled.

    What a great idea!

  • 11 guidancehelpme
    · Dec 29, 2005 at 5:59 pm

    I’ve lurked on this board and never posted. I don’t know what’s making me post now except to say this: I’m all for supporting other unions. However, Randi showing her face in support of a strike is not going to make Mike run to Albany to fight for our 55/25 deal. And that was one of the main points the union reps made when they came to our school- that everytime the NYC gov’t. went with us to Albany to argue for our pensions, we got it. I’m not sure we would have ever seen Mike fighting for us but I truly don’t see a chance now.

  • 12 paul
    · Jan 2, 2006 at 9:23 am

    Kudos to Mr. Colletti for his fantastic job reporting on the strike.