The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 5           February 6, 2006  
Transit workers in New York reject contract
(front page)
NEW YORK—In a jolt to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) bosses and the city rulers, transit workers here voted down a contract proposal January 20 that included first-ever payments for medical coverage. Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 officials had negotiated the deal with the MTA December 27. The majority of the TWU executive board, which called off a strike December 23 after three days of picketing, had recommended approval of the contract.

“I voted no,” subway cleaner E.D. Rodney told the Militant January 23 at the Coney Island yards. “They give with one hand and take away with the other. With the little raise we got and what we would’ve had to pay for health care, it wasn’t worth it.”

The contract was turned down by seven votes—11,234 to 11,227. About two-thirds of union members voted.

The 34,000-member TWU Local 100 had hit the picket lines December 20 in response to the bosses’ refusal to withdraw demands for new hires to pay 6 percent of their income into the pension plan. Union members said they went on strike against the two-tier plan because it would divide the union.

Although the transit bosses withdrew their pension demands, the deal between union officials and the MTA called for all workers to make payments of 1.5 percent of their income toward medical coverage, with that figure likely to grow in the next two years of the contract because it’s tied to rising costs of health care. “I’d hate to leave that legacy to the workers coming behind me,” Steve Shaw, a subway car inspector in the Bronx, said January 22. At a time when Ford, General Motors, Northwest Airlines, and other corporate giants have imposed similar concessions on workers, Local 100 has been able to maintain a health-care plan fully funded by the employer.

The 37-month proposed contract included annual wage raises of 3 percent, 4 percent, and 3.5 percent, and medical coverage for retirees too young to qualify for Medicare or who live outside the metropolitan area.

The contract also provided for refunds on overpayments on the pension plan by as many as 20,000 Local 100 members. New York governor George Pataki has threatened to veto legislation needed to pay for the refunds, and a number of workers said they didn’t want to be locked into a contract if one of its gains could be taken away by the stroke of a pen.

Unionists had walked the line for three days, faced a constant media barrage, and had been labeled “thugs” and “selfish” by the mayor. After the strike, some union members have been sporting a button reading “Union Thug” to get back at government officials and their antilabor language.

“The contract was unfair because of the medical payments,” said Marc Parris, a subway operator at the Coney Island yards. Like a number of workers at this large subway center, he objected to the 1.5 percent payments coming off their total income, resulting in larger payments for any overtime worked. “If there had been a flat rate it would’ve been OK,” said Parris.

Workers still face the threat of fines under the Taylor law, which bans strikes by public workers. “We shouldn’t have gone back to work from the strike without an exemption” from the antilabor law, added Robert McLaughlin, also a subway operator. A state Supreme Court judge in Brooklyn has announced hearings in February or March on $1 million per day fines against the union, individual fines on union members, and possible jail time for union officials.

The MTA announced plans January 23 to file a declaration of impasse with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board. If the board rules that an impasse has been reached, it could send the negotiations to binding arbitration. A spokesperson for Local 100 president Roger Toussaint said the union opposes binding arbitration because “it negates our members’ right to vote on the contract.”

Lamont Alston, with 12 years as a cleaner, said he voted yes on the settlement, but “the contract could be better. We needed to go on strike. We should have stayed out longer.” As for binding arbitration, “You usually come back with something worse,” he said.

Nancy Boyasko contributed to this article.
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