[Marxism] MTA threatens to eliminate check-off
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
By SEWELL CHAN
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
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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