When a first responder falls in the line of duty, communities often lower flags to half-staff as a sign of respect. So earlier this week when a firefighter lost his life battling a fire in the Bronx, members of Local 100 at the Kingsbridge Depot in New York lowered the facility’s massive flag to honor his service.
FDNY Battalion Chief Michael Fahy died in the line of duty on Tuesday, when a house exploded in the Bronx and he was hit by falling debris. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the flags lowered on all city buildings as a tribute, and Local 100 workers did just that.
||Local 100 members talk to the media
But supervisors at the MTA ordered the workers to raise the flag back up because, they said, they didn’t have permission from agency officials to follow the mayor’s order. The TWU members were threatened with suspension if they didn’t comply.
Local 100 wouldn’t let that stand. With the backing of TWU International Executive Vice President and Local 100 President John Samuelsen, the workers at the depot refused to raise the flag, and a tense stand-off ensued.
As word got out and the media picked up on the story, TWU members at other New York depots and even locals outside the city began lowering their flags in solidarity with Local 100 and out of respect for Chief Fahy.
Local 101, representing National Grid in Brooklyn, lowered their flag. So did Local 501 at JFK and Local 513 at DFW Airport in Dallas. And Local 525 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida—which counts firefighters among its members—followed suit.
Despite the opposition to MTA’s official stand, the supervisors at Kingsbridge raised the flag back up (in full view of the news media) and Local 100 members Tom Lenane and Mike Rehn lowered it back down. They then stood guard to prevent the MTA supervisors from raising the flag again. After several hours, the MTA finally backed down blaming the controversy on a “miscommunication” at the depot level.
According to President Samuelsen, “This incident was the result of the disrespectful decisions of brainless bureaucrats at NYC Transit, but when workers stand shoulder to shoulder, we win.”
It was more than a win. It was an honor.