Other workers were also upbeat that through their two-month work stoppage they had pushed back the city administration’s attempt to cut their health benefits, the issue at the center of the confrontation, and strengthened their union.
The bus workers, members of Transit Workers Union (TWU) Local 100, voted 1,058 to 88 to approve the contract negotiated with three private bus companies: Triboro Coach, Queens Surface, and Jamaica Buses.
The private lines are subsidized by $110 million annually in city funds and the city government owns two company bus depots and many of the vehicles.
The contract is retroactive to January of last year, when the previous one expired. It includes wage increases of 4 percent for each of 2001 and 2002, and a further 1 percent on March 31, 2003 when the agreement expires. The workers now earn an average of $20.35 per hour.
Retirement pension payments have been increased. While employer contributions to the Health Benefits Trust will move in step with the Consumer Price Index (CPI), an additional $3.75 million has been promised by the city. The contract says this will be recouped through "productivity improvements."
To go into effect the contract must now be approved by New York’s Office of Labor Relations and be accepted for funding by the city administration.
The unionists’ concerns about job security were addressed not in the contract but in a July 24 city council resolution. More than two-thirds of council members voted that any city franchise for privately operated bus services should "provide for the protection of the jobs, benefits and collective bargaining rights of employees of the current franchise holders."
In championing this vote, union officials also pointed out that in 30 years workers have never been able to achieve any employee protection provisions in city franchises.
Strikes earlier this year
As the employers and the city stalled the contract negotiations, the union members organized a two-hour wildcat strike in January, and a two-day stoppage in February, forcing the companies to agree to a draft contract.
City officials withheld their approval, however, and on June 17, union members began an indefinite strike.
The city’s refusal to provide funding for increases in health-care benefits over and above the CPI increase was a key issue in the dispute. As well, many drivers and other workers recognized that fundamental union rights were at stake.
"The city is just trying to bust the union. New York City was built on union labor," said one worker. Setting up regular picket lines at company depots, the unionists won the support of many working people. Their action had a big impact on public transport, affecting the daily schedules of some 100,000 people.
The strikers showed their resolve on July 14 by rejecting an attempt to ram a contract down their throat that, in their view, did not address the questions of health-care funding and job security.
"They want us to go back with promises," a striker commented. "We say unless we have a contract that’s signed, sealed, and delivered, we have no deal."
We mean business
Following the August 6 vote, Sean Banton, like Evans a worker at the Queens Surface company, told the Militant that "the contract is acceptable. We got what we could right now, and we showed them that we meant business."
TWU Local 100 is also gearing up for negotiations on the wages, benefits, and conditions covering the 30,000 New York city transit workers, including subway and bus operators, cleaners, and mechanics, whose contract expires on December 15.
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