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Date Posted: 22:43:38 07/29/04 Thu
Marty Goodman 7/30/04
The following article on Kevin Harrington, the Sikh religion Train Operator that was told to remove his turban, was submitted to “Socialist Action” newspaper and appeared in its July edition. A small box that appeared in the newspaper concerning the Republican convention and transit workers has been separated from the main article by a line of dots.
TRANSIT WORKER TARGETED FOR SIKH RELIGION
By Marty Goodman
Kevin Harrington, is a New York City subway train operator and follower of the Sikh faith. On June 15th, transit boss Lawrence Reuter, President of New York City Transit (NYCT), ordered him to cease wearing his blue turban. Reuter said Harrington violated the employee dress code.
Harrington’s Sikh faith, however, requires that a turban be worn when in public. Essentially, Reuter told Harrington: betray your faith or be fired as a train operator.
Harrington stood-up for his democratic rights and refused to remove the turban. He was banished, inquisition style, to a train yard far away from public sight. Such is the state of democratic rights in George Bush’s wartime America.
Harrington, a native New Yorker, was raised in an Irish Catholic-Protestant family and is a convert to the Sikh religion. For 20 of his 23 years as a train operator he wore his turban without harassment. Harrington’s abilities as a train operator have never questioned by the NYCT. In fact, he was awarded a commendation for his role in evacuating passengers on 9-11.
Harrington, who is also known to fellow Sikhs as Sathari Singh, will earn 20% less when working a train yard job, a hardship for his family.
The June 15th policy statement upheld a June 3rd order against Harrington for dress code violations. That original order briefly banished Harrington to a train yard far from public view.
Transit boss Reuter rescinded that order on June 8th following widespread media attention, which exposed NYCT bigotry in the Harrington case. Reuter now says that Harrington must permanently select a train yard assignment at semi-annual “picks” by seniority just to keep his job. If none are available he doesn’t work.
Meanwhile, Transit is promising an ongoing review of dress code policy.
Harrington is a member of the Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents 37,000 city subway and bus workers. Local 100 has come to Harrington’s legal defense although Harrington, a deeply political man, organized much of the media coverage his case received.
In an interview, Harrington told Socialist Action, “There is no difference between George Wallace [a segregationist Alabama Governor] standing in the door of Alabama University and Lawrence Reuter stopping me from being an employee as well as my fellow Sikhs.”
Harrington, who is a frequent participant at anti-Iraq war rallies, added, “The corporate culture is using the war in Iraq to enforce its rule. The victimization of Sikhs and Muslims is the domestic version of rule by force. Conform or starve. There is no place for free workers in the MTA or Iraq.”
Transit management has had plenty of practice targeting religious minorities and perpetuating war hysteria. In 2002, during the post 9-11 racist witch hunt against Muslims, Palestinians and South Asians, transit bosses targeted three African-American Muslim bus drivers in Brooklyn working for NYCT’s parent Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The women refused an MTA order to take-off their khimar, a traditional Muslim headdress, and were removed from service.
In 2003, an MTA arbitrator ruled that the MTA was arbitrary in enforcing the dress code yet relegated these brave women to an assignment sight unseen where they remain. Harrington has repeatedly called for justice for the Muslim women.
Says Harrington, “Myself and the Muslim women converts all stepped outside the commonly accepted norms of culture and are now victimized for doing so to intimidate those who do also. Many who become radically religious are dissatisfied with our culture and are possible rebels and good examples to victimize. In the fifties it was the red and now [it’s] the minority religions.”
Harrington says that next fall he will refuse “To pick a yard job...and validate their racist policy. That I will never do. I will not co-operate with racist activities against fellow workers.” Harrington is now gathering more support amongst Sikh and Muslim workers and civil libertarians to continue the struggle.
Supporters of religious freedom and democratic rights can email Harrington at email@example.com.
Crackdown Timed for Republican Convention?
Transit bosses will also use the example of the crackdown on Harrington to keep workers on a short leash during the National Republican Convention here in late August. Workers are increasingly angry over NYCT plans to downsize employee staff by computerizing train operation and further automating fare collection.
In addition, workers are angry over attempts by the city to have the MTA take over the financially troubled privately owned bus lines, who’s 3,000 workers are represented by Local 100.
In June, a job-cutting proposal for a Tri-State “Regional Bus System” was defeated, with union opposition, in the State Legislature. The bill projected putting the private bus lines, and 6,000 MTA Manhattan and Brooklyn bus drivers and mechanics, under its umbrella.
However, the union’s heavy reliance on politicians may not be enough to secure jobs and benefits. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is still pursuing a secretive MTA takeover of the private bus companies. Amongst the few details emerging are City/MTA plans to undermine Civil Service rights and health and pension benefits.
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