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After Deaths, Transit Chief Reaches Out to the Union

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By WILLIAM NEUMAN - New York Times

Published: May 3, 2007


The new head of New York City Transit sent an emotional letter addressed to 47,000 subway and bus workers yesterday, calling for a greater emphasis on safety in the wake of two recent track worker deaths and urging a new, more trusting era of labor-management relations.


Referring to his 20-year career in the United States Army, the transit president, Howard H. Roberts Jr., recalled the time he served as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division, where staying alive was a matter of following safety rules.


“The only difference between being a paratrooper and working many jobs at NYC Transit is that jumping out of planes was a lot safer,” Mr. Roberts said in the letter.


Mr. Roberts, who started the job in mid-April, said he was taking the deaths last month of the two track workers, Daniel Boggs and Marvin Franklin, in accidents five days apart, “personally” and said that he felt “responsible for everything that happens or does not happen at NYC Transit.”


The letter was distributed to thousands of employees by e-mail and also posted at work sites in the transit system.

After the second death, last Sunday, Mr. Roberts ordered an immediate stop to all work on tracks and tunnels so employees could receive additional training on safety procedures.


In the aftermath of the track workers’ deaths, Mr. Roberts has worked closely with Roger Toussaint, the president of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union. They both attended the funeral of Mr. Boggs, who was killed April 24, and paid a hospital visit to another worker, Jeff Hill, who was injured in the second accident, in which Mr. Franklin was killed.


Their apparently warm relationship reflects a change from recent years, before and after the subway and bus strike of December 2005, which were marked by frequent antagonism between the union and officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

In the letter, Mr. Roberts said management and labor “share the same goals,” including safety.


“I am going to require that the chain of command tries to work as cooperatively with labor in every aspect of our business as Roger Toussaint and I have worked together through these two terrible tragedies,” he wrote. He said that he was including a union member on the panel that is investigating Mr. Franklin’s death, and that union members would be assigned to future investigations of accidents as well.


Paul J. Fleuranges, a spokesman for New York City Transit, said that Mr. Roberts had not yet set a date when work on the tracks and tunnels would resume.


After last Sunday’s accident, Mr. Toussaint spoke in positive terms about Mr. Roberts’s actions in response to the workers’ deaths. “This is certainly a harsh introduction,” Mr. Toussaint said, “to the harsh realities of life in Transit.”

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Maybe now they can get along a little better during these tough times. Fix whats broken and make sure this never happens again.

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