Roger Toussaint as Person of the Year
This year, EVERYBODY’S Magazine 2005 Person of the Year is Roger Toussaint, President of Local 100, the union that represents the transit workers of New York City.
Like thousands of other Caribbean immigrants, Trinidad & Tobago-born Toussaint came to the U.S. to get an education and remained to make a contribution.
Roger Toussaint is reminiscent of the late Peter Ottley, an immigrant from Grenada who made an impact on the labor movement in New York City and across the U.S. Beginning in 1933 and ending in the 1980s, Ottley organized nursing home and hospital workers, elevator operators and hotel workers into unions. For the thousands of immigrants of today who keep New York City functioning – nurse’s aides, hotel and building janitors and cleaning women – they owe a debt of gratitude to Ottley, then-president of Local 144, for the relatively decent working conditions that they now enjoy in comparison to their earlier counterparts.
Like Ottley, Roger Toussaint is a man of principle who aggressively embraced the American credo of bequeathing a better future for tomorrow’s worker. By waging an honorable battle to maintain workers’ hard-won pensions and other benefits Toussaint and the Transport Workers Union(TWU) demonstrated that they are keeping alive the best traditions of the American labor movement.
Once the strike was called Mayor Mike Bloomberg and New York State Governor George Pataki waged a war of words against Toussaint. The mayor even used racial code words to refer the workers’ glorious struggle as “thuggish behavior” while reminding Toussaint that “This is a nation of laws.”
Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki conveniently forgot to remind New Yorkers and the nation that it was the “thug” Toussaint who, in 2002, in the wake of 9/11, accepted a modest contract for his union much to the chagrin of many union members who accused Toussaint of “selling out.”
Toussaint took the high road then. It would have been unprincipled, unpatriotic and not within the spirit of sacrifice for Toussaint and the TWU to call a strike when the city was still reeling from the attack.
Toussaint was right in 2002 for not calling a strike and he was right in 2005 when he called one.
We applaud Roger Toussaint for the dignified way he conducted himself during the 54-hour strike, his principled approach, his oratory and his effective communication of the transit workers’ demands. Moreover, we salute Mr. Toussaint and the selfless, valiant workers of the Transport Workers Union for standing up for the unborn and today’s workers by “resisting pension givebacks and the erosion or elimination of workers’ health benefits coverage.” Indeed, our Person of the Year is charting a course that we hope labor leaders throughout the nation will emulate.