NYC's transit workers approve strike authorization

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

A subway train in New York City

New York City is on track to grind to a halt on December 15 when the Transport Workers Union Local 100 contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority expires. Union members gathered at Jacob Javits today and unanimously approved a strike authorization if the negotaions between the TWU and MTA fail. Among the many disagreements are the MTA's employee rules and salary increases.

MTA employees have complained about the rule that requires them to call and alert a supervisor prior to taking a bathroom break of no more than ten minutes. Workers have pointed out that supervisors are not always accessible, especially during the overnight shifts. Another rule in dispute is the employee's uniform: "Sikh workers, whose religion requires they wear a turban, must wear one made of TA-issued fabric with the TA logo front and center."[1] But the major sticking point has been the pay raises. The union has demanded an 8% increase per year for the next three years, but the MTA has offered 5% over two years. The MTA was running a deficit during the previous contract negotiation in 2002, forcing the TWU to accept what the MTA offered. But now, reportedly US$1 billion in the black and offering free rides for the holidays to its riders, the union is looking to cash in on the MTA's good fortunes.

The TWU began broadcasting radio advertisements on the news stations 1010 WINS-AM and 880 WCBS-AM to gain public support. Part of it goes "MTA bosses are making buses run faster, while carrying more people, and don't even give the operators enough time for a bathroom break" and "Security alert levels are still high, but MTA bosses are taking conductors off trains, closing token booths and installing turnstiles that make emergency evacuation very difficult." Michael Bloomberg had stressed in the negotiations of 2002 that the city would enforce the Taylor Law, which prohibits public employees from striking and fines strikers two days wages each striking day. Echoing his previous position three years ago, Mayor Bloomberg said "They should stay in a room until they come to an agreement." Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo said a strike could cost as much as US$10 million a day in police overtime and other expenses.

The last transit strike was in April 1980, and lasted for eleven days. TWU President Roger Toussaint called the proposed health provisions, pension givebacks, and wage increase "an insult to our members", and went on to suggest that the odds of a strike were 50/50. Both Toussaint and chief MTA negotiator Gary Dellaverson said they were confident that a strike could be averted, but union members made clear that they will strike if - or as most commuters fear, when - the negotiations fail and the deadline is passed.

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