[Marxism] MTA threatens to eliminate check-off

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Jan 28 08:05:06 MST 2006

(I seem to recall that when I was in the SWP, our position was that the 
union check-off system was not all that it was cracked up to be. By 
deducting the dues from the pay check, it allowed a certain kind of inertia 
to set in. However, I can't imagine how in the world a huge union like the 
TWA could really collect dues in any other way. Bureaucratic inertia would 
seem to be a function of deeper structural/political issues.)

NY Times, January 28, 2006
Transit Union Fights Effort to Restrict Dues Collection

The New York City transit workers' union, already roiled by internal 
discord and a protracted contract dispute, now finds itself fighting to 
avoid a potentially ruinous penalty: the loss of its ability to 
automatically collect dues from members.

Unions that violate the state's Taylor Law, which prohibits public-sector 
unions from striking, can indefinitely lose the ability to collect dues 
through payroll deduction, a procedure known as dues checkoff. For the 
transit union, which struck for 60 hours in December, the loss of that 
privilege would be financially calamitous.

On Jan. 10, the state's Public Employment Relations Board began the process 
for revoking dues checkoff by formally charging Local 100 of the Transport 
Workers Union with calling an illegal strike. Yesterday, the union 
responded by accusing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of "extreme 
provocation that helped to cause the strike and prolonged the strike."

"Dues checkoff is absolutely indispensable," said David L. Gregory, a labor 
law professor at St. John's University. "If dues are suspended, frozen or 
sequestered, that's a radical move. It would fundamentally cripple the union."

Although the transit workers are required to pay dues to Local 100 under 
state law, in practice it is almost impossible to collect regular dues 
without payroll deductions. The union has set up a contingency plan under 
which members would be asked to pay dues automatically through electronic 
bank transfers, but union officials acknowledge that ensuring compliance 
among 33,700 workers would be a logistical nightmare.

In a separate action involving another strike-related penalty, Local 100 
yesterday appealed a state judge's decision to fine it up to $3 million for 
contempt of court. The Brennan Center for Justice, a public-interest law 
firm, filed a brief in support of the union, contending that the fines were 
unconstitutional because the union was entitled to a jury trial under the 
Sixth Amendment.

The loss of dues checkoff and the contempt fines would both be severe 
setbacks, but the dues provision is the graver threat over the long run, 
Professor Gregory said.

After the previous citywide transit strike, in 1980, Local 100 lost dues 
checkoff for several months, but the privilege was restored, with the 
authority's support, after the union made clear its dire financial state.

New York City Transit workers represented by Local 100 have $21.94 deducted 
from their paychecks for dues every two weeks, or $570.44 a year. Dues 
finance everything from newsletters to legal representation in disciplinary 

In 2004, the union collected $19.8 million in dues, accounting for 87 
percent of its total revenue of $22.8 million, according to the union's 
most recent annual report.

Dues checkoff could also be revoked for two other unions that joined the 
strike, Locals 726 and 1056 of the Amalgamated Transit Union; 726 
represents bus workers on Staten Island, and 1056, those in Queens. 
"Anybody losing their source of income is going to be in trouble," said 
Angelo Tanzi, the president of Local 726.

The next step is a hearing on the strike charges before an administrative 
law judge for the Public Employment Relations Board or before the board 
itself. The hearing has not yet been scheduled.

The fact that the union staged an illegal strike from Dec. 20 to 22 does 
not guarantee that dues checkoff will be revoked. Under the Taylor Law, the 
board is supposed to consider "the extent of any willful defiance" by the 
union, the impact of the strike on public health and safety, and the 
financial resources of the union.

Under the Taylor Law, two factors may stand in the union's defense. First, 
it agreed to accept board-appointed mediators, who later devised the 
settlement that allowed the strike to end. (Union members narrowly rejected 
that settlement last week.) Second, the board may consider whether the 
employer "engaged in such acts of extreme provocation as to detract from 
the responsibility of the employee organization for the strike." The union 
made that second argument yesterday, asserting that the authority had 
brought on the strike by improperly insisting on pension demands.

In the separate contempt case, Local 100 yesterday appealed a state judge's 
decision in December to fine it up to $3 million, Local 726 up to $150,000 
and Local 1056 up to $225,000.

In 1968, the State Court of Appeals ruled that public employees were not 
entitled to a jury trial when accused of criminal contempt for violating 
the Taylor Law. The Brennan Center contended yesterday that under a 1994 
decision by the United States Supreme Court, "criminal contempt punishable 
by serious monetary penalty must be adjudicated by a jury."

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