Transit union weighs options in stalemate

By Philip Newman

A group of rank-and-file union members appeared outside the union hall on Manhattan's Upper West Side loudly demanding to be admitted to the deliberations of the Transit Workers Union's executive board.Toussaint attributed the incident to what he called “publicity seekers who are eager to get their pictures in the papers.” “We are have made contact with the MTA,” Toussaint said. “We are hopeful that soon – perhaps in a few days time – we can read what the MTA's intentions are,” Toussaint said following the meeting.Toussaint said a settlement through negotiations “makes sense” and was preferable to binding arbitration, which was favored by the MTA.Toussaint had said previously that the new contract proposal offered by the MTA was unworthy of submitting to union members for a vote.Slightly more than 22,000 subway and bus workers rejected by a seven-vote margin an agreement that ended a three-day strike that began Dec. 20. There are 33,700 TWU workers.The MTA last week came up with a new, tougher contract proposal in an effort to get TWU members to agree to arbitration. An arbitration committee that would listen to arguments from both the MTA and the union then rule on what should be in the new contract. The workers would have no vote.Toussaint, Local 100 Secretary-Treasurer Ed Watt and other union officials have steadfastly denounced arbitration as a way out of the deadlock.The MTA applied to the state Public Employees Relations Board to come up with an arbitration panel and in its application provided a picture of a less generous contract proposal than its previous offer to transit workers.In the new proposal, the MTA kept a provision that the workers pay 1.5 percent of their pay toward health care.Several items the MTA had removed to make the previous contract more acceptable were restored, including:Changes in work rules involving bus drivers that the union said could nullify or interfere with seniority.Subway booth agents could be assigned additional work like janitorial duties and changing light bulbs.The MTA could abolish the jobs of subway train conductors, thus removing a two-person train policy in the union contract which courts have upheld.Newly hired transit workers would pay 6 percent of wages for health care.The Martin Luther King holiday would be removed from the new contract, which would run 39 rather than 37 months and expire in March rather than January.The new proposal from the MTA removes a provision to refund pension payments for about 20,000 workers who overpaid into pension funds. The provision was denounced by Gov. George Pataki, who threatened to veto it.The offer of a 10.5 percent wage increase remains in the new contract proposal.MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow expressed “deep disappointment” in the transit union rejection of “a contract negotiated over hundreds of hours.”Kalikow said nevertheless that the MTA was ready to “meet with and listen to” the transit workers.Kalikow spoke at the monthly meeting of the MTA Board Jan.25.

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