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Rats ruled the subways in New York City until the union and the riders embarrassed management into cleaning up. New York City transit workers are allying with bus and subway riders for better conditions. This scourge of the transit system was infecting every corner, rapidly growing in size and number, and making life miserable for workers and riders alike: none other than the New York City Subway Rat.
Local 100’s administration, headed by President John Samuelsen, had run on a reform program, promising to rebuild steward networks and form coalitions with the riding public. The rats were on platforms, in crew quarters, crawling in subway towers, and occasionally riding the trains.
A little research revealed that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) had stopped sending out baiting crews around 2006.
At the urging of stewards in the cleaners’ section of the union, the local’s safety department focused its efforts on the most infested station in the system, Parsons Archer in Queens.
Frustrated with the slow pace of progress, the union decided to launch a public campaign: New Yorkers Deserve a Rat-Free Subway. A hundred members, officers, and staff surrounded the station entrance chanting, “Budget cuts means rats are back” and “You don’t want to ride with them and we don’t want to work with them!” They asked passengers to sign a petition calling for a system-wide rat eradication plan.
The campaign gained momentum as more and more members came out for “Rat Hits” at stations all over the city. West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT) was a consistent partner in the fight against rats.
Stewards were front and center in most of the press pieces, taking reporters into rat-infested crevices of the system to give them an embedded reporter’s view of the battlefield.

When we awarded the MetroCard to the contest winner—in front of the rat balloon, of course—more than 30 press outlets showed up.
New Yorkers Deserve a Rat-Free Subway was about to mark its first year when superstorm Sandy hit. Discover what to do, where to stay and what to see in New York City with our planning tool. Enjoy Shakespeare in the Park, the Museum Mile Festival, Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks and more.
Wireless Internet is available at locations throughout NYC—including many parks and libraries. New York City is made up of five boroughs: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island.
Operating in all five boroughs and carrying nearly eight million riders daily, MTA New York City Transit is the meat and bones of City transportation—the largest subway system in the world and the largest fleet of public buses in the United States.
But a year ago Transport Workers Local 100 in New York stumbled upon an enemy so scary, it would unite subway riders and workers in action to overcome a clear and present danger.
The local’s newly trained stewards began filing field reports that rats were infesting the system to a degree previously unseen.
Remixing a union standby, Local 100 blew up its union rat-balloon in front of the Parsons Archer station and unveiled a banner claiming New Yorkers’ right to a vermin-free commute. Previously silent politicians appeared at rallies, decrying a neglected system that needed to be cleaned up. Members conducted surveys in their local stations, bringing the cleanliness issue into the public eye.

Riders were asked to submit pictures of “New York’s Ugliest Subway Rat.” The winner would get an unlimited monthly subway pass.
Then the New York Post picked up the contest—leading to more than 250,000 hits on our website in one day and a local, national, and international media feeding frenzy. The MTA budgeted an additional $1.6 million to run new garbage trains, creating 19 new jobs.
Public perception was almost universally positive, a departure from the trend of potshots at public sector union workers. Riders are learning they can count on Local 100 to keep up the fight for clean, safe, reliable public transportation.
Grievances had been filed, and union officers and the safety committee had visited the site multiple times.
A legislator brought the cause directly to the MTA’s executive director at his confirmation hearings in the state capital. They convened a press conference with local politicians and organized their members to participate in rat hits, building connections between riders and workers.
Every local station, CNN, ABC, and 17 international TV stations and newspapers picked up and ran the story of the photo contest.
Baiting crews are out in force for the first time in years, forcing the MTA to backfill track positions with new hires.

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