[Marxism] New provocation from MTA

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jan 26 07:25:01 MST 2006

NY Times, January 26, 2006
M.T.A. Returns to Harder Line in Labor Talks

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority yesterday proposed a contract 
considerably harsher to the city's transit workers than the one they 
narrowly voted down last Friday.

Some labor experts said the authority's move was intended to pressure union 
leaders to accept binding arbitration — but was likely to heighten labor 

The authority's new offer keeps the provision that union members disliked 
most, a requirement that workers begin contributing 1.5 percent of their 
wages toward health-insurance premiums, and revives a proposal that had 
been taken off the table, that new workers contribute more to their 
pensions than current workers. It also includes provisions dropped early in 
the negotiations, like the expansion of one-person train operation.

In addition, the authority's new offer eliminates a provision that 
delighted many workers — a pension refund that would give thousands of 
dollars to about 20,000 union members who made overpayments from 1994 to 2001.

The offer added yet another surprise chapter to a labor epic that led to 
failed negotiations in December, a 60-hour strike, a hard-wrought agreement 
that ended the walkout, and then, finally, the general membership's 
rejecting the overall contract settlement by just 7 votes.

While making its new, tougher offer, the transportation authority took 
steps to move the dispute to binding arbitration.

While some experts said the offer increased the possibility of another 
strike, others described it as a tactical move devised to show dissidents 
that the deal rejected last week was fair. Despite the request for 
arbitration, both sides could still come together to reach a new deal. A 
spokesman for Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union said last night that 
the union's leaders were studying the authority's new proposal and were not 
ready to comment.

The authority's proposal calls for the same total wage increases included 
in the settlement — 10.9 percent — but would stretch them out over 39 
months, instead of the 37 months agreed to in the settlement. The longer 
contract would expire on March 15, 2009, removing the threat of a strike 
during the coldest months.

With the union leaders' insisting that they would not "sell out the unborn" 
— that is, future workers — the transportation authority, after the strike, 
abandoned its insistence that new workers pay 6 percent of their wages 
toward their pension plan, compared with 2 percent for current workers. In 
exchange, the union agreed to the new health care contributions.

But the authority jettisoned that crucial compromise in the new offer it 
made yesterday.

The authority's chairman, Peter S. Kalikow, left open the possibility of 
resuming face-to-face talks, but he suggested there was little to say to 
the union: "While we can talk about issues, a lot of the financial 
incentives we have given them are probably as much as we can give."

In papers filed with the New York State Public Employment Relations Board 
yesterday, the authority asked for arbitration, arguing that a voluntary 
resolution "cannot be effected" after the union's members rejected the 

Under the board's rules, the union has 10 working days to respond to the 
authority's petition. If the board concludes that the two sides are 
deadlocked and cannot reach an agreement on their own, it will help set up 
a three-member arbitration panel that can impose a new contract. But an 
arbitration panel might be barred from including in its decision two 
pivotal sweeteners that the union had won in the settlement: the pension 
refunds and improved health care benefits for some retirees under 65.

"We're going to do everything we can to resist binding arbitration," the 
union's secretary-treasurer, Ed Watt, said yesterday before learning of the 
authority's latest offer.

Harry C. Katz, dean of the Cornell University School of Industrial and 
Labor Relations, said the authority's tough stance appeared to reflect Gov. 
George E. Pataki's strong criticism of the settlement and in particular of 
the pension refunds, which would cost around $130 million.

"Management, by coming in this hard, is pushing the union leadership into 
the corner," he said. "Then they look really kind of weak. That's not what 
you want. All they're going to do is possibly get another strike."

Already yesterday, John F. Mooney said he and other dissident leaders were 
prepared to call for another strike. "If they want to go to battle, we're 
ready," said Mr. Mooney, a union vice president who helped lead opposition 
to the settlement. "We need to hold a unionwide membership meeting and the 
possibility of a strike has to be readdressed. The membership should 
strongly consider going on strike again."

In an interview earlier this week, Roger Toussaint, the union's president, 
would not rule out another strike but cautioned against empty threats. 
"There are people who can talk a fight without having to take 
responsibility for almost 34,000 troops," he said. "I'm not making threats 
that are not believable and that I'm not serious about."

Mr. Watt, who is Mr. Toussaint's top deputy, expressed frustration about 
the narrow rejection of the settlement. "The previous deal was a really 
good deal," he said, urging workers to "look at this as a union member and 
not as, 'What's in it for me?' " Mr. Watt added that the union's executive 
board would meet on Tuesday and that decisions, if any, would wait until then.

Several labor experts said the authority's tougher proposal might have been 
designed to convince dissidents that they were wrong to vote down the 
previous deal, perhaps clearing the way for the two sides to reach a deal 
not much different from the rejected one.

Bruce C. McIver, a former chief of labor relations for both the city and 
the authority, said the union was in a weak position, with a divided 
membership having rejected a deal that its leaders negotiated.

"The M.T.A. has the upper hand right now," Mr. McIver said. "Binding 
arbitration carries risks for the union. Rather than help Roger to solve 
this problem, this seems to put him in a much tougher position." Mr. McIver 
warned, however, that the authority's strategy could backfire. "The danger 
is that they can lose public support if it looks like they're being 
gratuitously provocative," he said. "At the end of the day they have to 
remember that these guys run the trains. It's hard work to heal the wounds 
after a strike. The angrier the work force is, the harder it will be to heal."

The authority's latest offer also revived several provisions bitterly 
opposed by the union.

The offer calls for expansion of one-person train operation, a program 
begun in 1996 that gives the train operator the responsibility for opening 
and shutting the doors and making announcements, the traditional tasks of 
the conductor. It also calls for merging the jobs of conductor and train 
operator into a single job title, although the roles would remain separate. 
It would require station cleaners to perform new tasks, like removing 
graffiti, changing light bulbs and applying spots of paint.



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