Transit workers demand ouster of TWU vice president following brawl with critic

Transit workers rally outside TWU headquarters, calling for the ouster of VP Canella Gomez.
Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Transit workers gathered outside the headquarters of their union, Transport Workers Union Local 100, on Tuesday to demand the ouster of a top official who allegedly assaulted a fellow member critical of the leadership.

TWU members descended on union HQ in Brooklyn Heights calling for the removal of Canella Gomez, a vice president in the Rapid Transit Operations department, who last month brawled with Tramell Thompson, a subway conductor and strident critic of union leadership.

The incident, the details of which are in dispute, occurred at the Bedford Park Boulevard B/D subway stop in the northern section of the Bronx on Feb. 21. Union president Richard Davis told Gothamist that Gomez was pasting posters in the station when Thompson “sucker punched” him, leading to a melee. 

“Gomez was acting in self-defense, he was sucker punched, he responded to protect himself,” Davis told Gothamist. “And then he restrained Conductor Thompson and directed the police to be called.”

Both men were ultimately arrested and charged with assault. A TWU spokesperson said that both Thompson and Gomez have dropped charges they filed against each other. The Bronx District Attorney has sealed the case from public view, so a spokesperson declined to comment on the status. The NYPD did not return a request for comment.

In an MTA incident report from Feb. 21, a train operator said Thompson had “swung on” Gomez before the honcho restrained him.

But it was Thompson, not Gomez, who sustained severe injuries from the incident, including a broken leg and injuries to his face. His supporters say that Davis was dishonest in his public statements about the incident, and it was Gomez, not Thompson, who initiated the brawl.

“Richie Davis, our president, said our member attacked the VP, instead of saying no comment, we’re going to wait for the investigation,” Chris Drummond, a one-time union vice chair and supporter of Thompson, told amNewYork Metro at the rally. “Forget taking sides, he’s commenting against a dues-paying member, incriminating comments.”

The dissenting members say that the union cannot be trusted to negotiate in good faith on behalf of members — whose contract expires in May — with Gomez in a top leadership position. They are calling for his ouster.

“It’s negotiating time. It’s our contract right now. Would you let someone who assaulted one of your brothers represent you in contract negotiations? In this pivotal moment?” asked Drummond, who works as a subway conductor. “We want Canella Gomez, the vice president of RTO, to step down. And we want this president to either retract his comments to the press, or he’s gotta step down.”

Transit Union leader Richard Davis
TWU Local 100 President Richard DavisFile Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Allies of Thompson were passing around petitions in an attempt to force TWU leadership to hold a vote on Gomez’s continued vice presidency.

Thompson is the founder of a caucus called Progressive Action and has frequently been at odds publicly with union leadership. In a YouTube video one week before the incident, Thompson singled out Gomez as holding water for MTA management, who he says were trying to make rank-and-file workers remove passengers from soiled train cars without proper personal protective gear.

“Stop the BS, Canella,” said Thompson in the Feb. 14 video. “The bottom line is that you guys have to hold management accountable and stop putting the onus on us.”

Thompson’s supporters say the criticism put a target on his back, and should make the transit rank-and-file question those representing them at the bargaining table.

“It’s very important that you all understand where we are right now. We can lose everything,” said Evangeline Byars, a train operator who previously tried to run for union president, in remarks to demonstrators outside headquarters. “And so the attack on Tramell was to silence him, was to get him out of the way, so that he no longer exposes management.”

Byars herself tried to run for president of TWU in 2021 but was denied the opportunity, as she had been deemed a member in “bad standing” by leadership. She sued the union, arguing that designation was made in violation of the union bylaws; judges have sided with the union, though Byars is still appealing the case.

Davis became president of Local 100 in December, following the retirement of Tony Utano. He was selected by the union’s executive committee, rather than by a vote by its 41,000 members, which include subway and bus operators, cleaners, maintenance crew, and station agents.

Gomez declined to comment when reached via phone by amNewYork Metro. TWU spokesperson Alan Saly said the union stands behind President Davis’ original comments to Gothamist, and declined to respond further. The MTA also declined to comment.

Thompson could not be reached for comment.