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Michael Ratner

Michael Ratner

Many of you must have noticed the passing on May 11th of Michael Ratner, for many years the President of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Michael was a tireless and passionate fighter for justice and social change. The New York Times ran a long obituary that can be found here. The Center ran their own tribute to him on their website.

None of the pieces I’ve read have mentioned a little known part of Michael’s early career: he was one of the lawyers who worked on the Taxi Rank & File Coalition’s historic lawsuit challenging the union leadership’s effort to impose the hated 1971 contract without a vote by the membership – as required by the union constitution. We filed our suit in April 1973, fully two years after the taxi bosses and the union imposed the contract – over the overwhelming opposition of taxi workers. You can read all about it in the Hot Seat, starting with #22.

We finally won a victory of sorts in November of that year when the unratified contract expired and the union and fleetowners tried to submit the next one to binding arbitration. Judge Marvin Frankel issued a temporary restraining order blocking that move. Finally, in June 1974, the union agreed to settle the case and hold a vote on what was now a new contract. The vote finally took place in September ’74. By then, the anger and fury over the contract was a distant memory and its most significant “innovations”,  a lower share of the fare for new drivers and a dime off the top for benefits, had acquired the air of permanency. Barely five percent of the union membership voted and the contract passed by about two to one. According to the Hot Seat (I have to rely on that account since I can’t remember the details myself), almost half the people who voted for the contract were pensioners – the union leadership’s main base of support.

The Rank & File’s lead attorney was Richard Levy, but Michael played an important role in thinking through the case and developing strategy. I was on the committee that met with the lawyers, and I remember Michael as thoughtful, humble, and smart. He and Richard (who worked very hard on the case) did great work and were forever gracious to us even though the Rank & File voted not to ask the court to force the union to pay our legal fees.

Michael will be missed!

 

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Paris taxi protest brings rush hour traffic to standstill

 

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