By Philip Newman
The Transit Workers Union Local 100 leadership has called for approval of the proposed new contract, although a dissident faction of the workers criticized parts of it.The TWU leadership, headed by the union's president, Roger Toussaint, is conducting meetings throughout the city to encourage approval of the tentative contract.The union is encouraging members to vote by computer and telephone in an effort to complete the balloting by Jan. 20, ahead of a vote on the contract by the MTA board on Jan. 25.Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who appoints four members of the MTA board, has come out in favor of MTA approval of the contract.”This agreement was reached in negotiations,” Bloomberg said. “It was the best the two sides could come up with.”Gov. George Pataki, who has the greatest influence on the MTA, an extra-governmental agency, has not commented since criticizing an agreement by the MTA to reimburse transit workers for overpayments to a pension fund. Pataki said it was inappropriate since the strike was illegal under the state Taylor law, which forbids walkouts by employees of public agencies.Pataki appoints six of the MTA board members.City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), chairman of the Council's Transportation Committee, called for ratification of the proposed TWU-MTA contract.”Both sides must ratify the current contract on the table,” Liu said. “We simply cannot afford another transit shutdown.”Liu said that “if this agreement falls apart, we will know who to blame for another shutdown. Hardworking New Yorkers must not be again held hostage to George Pataki's personal ambitions.”Liu was referring to Pataki's low profile during the negotiations, when he was at one point in New Hampshire, where some political observers said he was testing the waters for a possible run for the presidency.Meanwhile, Toussaint is due in court later this month to face charges of conducting a strike in defiance of the Taylor Law.The law specifies a penalty of $1 million a day in fines against the union and two days' pay for every striking members of the TWU.The new proposed contract provides for the first time that workers contribute to health benefits, in this case 1.5 percent of their pay.The union beat back an MTA demand that the retirement age be raised from 55 to 62.The strike by the nearly 34,000 workers lasted three days and unofficial estimates put the cost to New York City at just under $1 billion.Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.