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NYC officials demand cutbacks in negotiations
Transit bosses' hard line

By Nick Bergreen | February 10, 2006 | Page 11

NEW YORK--Government authorities are taking a hard line with transit workers here after members of the union narrowly voted down a contract negotiated following December's illegal three-day strike.

The workers, members of Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100, voted last month by a seven-vote margin to reject a new contract that, while containing improvements, had significant givebacks in health care.

Now the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), a state agency, is pushing an offer worse than that which provoked the strike. The MTA proposal would keep in place the rejected deal's requirement that workers pay 1.5 percent of their wages into health care coverage, while resurrecting the worst feature of the offer that led to the walkout--a plan that would have forced future workers to pay a greater percentage of their wages into pensions.

What's more, the MTA, under pressure from Republican Gov. George Pataki--who wants to look tough to bid for the Republican 2008 nomination--has dropped its plan to refund pension overpayments to more than 20,000 union members.

Other punitive and insulting measures have also been included in the newest contract, such as forcing token booth operators to clean up stations and expanding one-person train operation. The MTA also wants to spread out the 10.9 percent wage increase previously agreed, paying the total over 39 months instead of 37.

Further, the MTA--backed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg--is trying to pressure the union into binding arbitration, in which a panel of three arbitrators would decide the terms of the contract behind closed doors.

At the same time, TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint, who had aggressively pushed the rejected deal, faces a court hearing over his decision to call a strike in violation of the state's anti-union Taylor Laws.

The MTA, which is sitting on a surplus of $1 billion, has the money to meet workers' demands--which helped the opposition Committee for a Better Contract (CBC) to mobilize a "no" vote.

At a meeting of 150 people sponsored by Labor Notes magazine, veteran Local 100 activist and CBC member Steve Downs, a train operator, said that another strike should remain on the table, and the committee union should pressure the MTA by mobilizing rallies with other municipal workers and carry out job actions.

As a CBC leaflet put it, "From the [Local 100's] Executive Board's lop-sided vote in favor of the agreement to Toussaint's repeated declarations that the contract would be overwhelmingly approved, Toussaint and the Board have shown that they are out of touch with the members. We cannot leave the negotiations solely in their hands. Now we need to unite the local in the struggle for a better contract."

Shaun Harkin contributed to this report.

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