Earl Phillips: Increasing the Safety of Transportation Workers Through Advocacy
BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Earl Phillips—the secretary treasurer of the Transport Workers Union, Local 100, which represents 40,000 members employed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and New York City Transit (NYCT)—attributes his success to his grandmother, whose lessons guided him throughout his life. She constantly reminded him that the “sky is the limit.”
Phillips was born in Barbados and immigrated to the United States in 1987 at the age of 25 to be reunited with his mother and siblings, who had left 18 years prior to seek out a better life.
When Phillips left St. George, he said that he departed with the background of his maternal grandmother’s guidance: “specifically, respect and to reach for the stars.”
With a lifetime dream of being an auto mechanic, Phillips started his own auto repair ship in Brooklyn. Four years later, he began working for the NYCT as a chassis maintainer, operating out of the East New York bus depot in Brooklyn and the Gun Hill and Kingsbridge bus depots in the Bronx, while also running his repair shop.
After a year of working both jobs, Phillips decided to focus solely on his work with the NYCT after having noticed the need for safer workplaces.
As a result of his advocacy to protect the safety of transit workers, he secured a job with Local 100 as a field-safety representative.
In 2005, Phillips went back to being a chassis maintainer and remained in the job until 2010, when he became the director of safety and health within the union. In 2011, Phillips became a fill-in as Local 100’s secretary treasurer. Two years later, the membership elected Phillips to a full three-year term.
“The most important part of being the secretary treasurer of the Transport Workers Union Local 100 is the fiduciary responsibilities as well as being able to have dialogue with investigators with the Department of Labor,” he said.
Phillips said that he is thankful for being elected to three terms and hopes he’ll be given a fourth.
He added that his dialect is what keeps him engaged with his Caribbean roots, as do the Caribbean members he represents.
“We are proud of our cultural engagement,” said Phillips.
He points to fact of Caribbean Americans’ holding high leadership roles in U.S. society as proof that they are capable of doing anything.
“Not to speak discriminately or with bias, but it says a lot about us in the Caribbean and around the world,” said Phillips. “Today, you hear some people around the world believe we are not advancing or not trustworthy, that we are a third world. However, the work speaks for itself.”
In addition to being the secretary treasurer, Phillips serves as the union’s trustee on the board of the New York City Employee Retirement System (NYCERS) and is an active member of the board of the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger (BSCAH).
Phillips said that his two children, Tina and Alexander, are his greatest source of pride. He borrows a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson to explain his success: “No great man ever complains of want of opportunity, but a great man must be ready to assume the responsibility that accompanies opportunity.”
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144, email@example.com or @reporter_ariel.