Published: December 21, 2005
Publication: Daily News
By Pete Donohue
THE MTA and its warring union couldn’t even manage to talk to each other yesterday – forcing millions of New Yorkers to suffer the consequences. Both Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority claimed they were willing to talk. Yet their only joint appearance came in a Brooklyn courtroom, where the union tried to blame the MTA for the strike – and got socked with a $1 million-a-day fine that could deplete its treasury by the end of the week. “This is a very, very sad day in the history of labor relations in New York City,” said Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Theodore Jones, who imposed the fine. “This situation represents what I think is the ultimate breakdown of collective bargaining.
” Both sides did agree to meet separately yesterday with a state mediator, yet they remained far apart in several key areas such as wage hikes and pension payments. The two sides are even divided over basic assumptions about what was at stake and how to resolve the dispute. Local 100 President Roger Toussaint said the transit agency needed to share its surplus with workers, bring Gov. Pataki into the talks and stop trying to set a precedent that would cut pensions for all public employees. “There’s an agenda at stake here that has nothing to do with the economic needs of the MTA at this time,” Toussaint told the Daily News. The MTA insisted it has to bolster its retirement plans ahead of a ticking demographic time bomb – and that it has no more money to offer and no reason to bring in Pataki. “The governor should not be involved in a personal way at the bargaining table,” said MTA board member Barry Feinstein. “That’s not his role. If he did that, he’d be expected to go to every bargaining session where there’s a threatened walkout or disagreement.
” While Local 100 promised to appeal the huge fines, even its parent union called the strike illegal and ordered its members back to work. State lawyers could be back in court as soon as today seeking individual fines of up to $1,000 a day against 87 union board members. “We have to keep our options open in the event that this strike is unresolved,” said James Henly, the state’s assistant attorney general who argued for fines against the TWU. The union claimed in court that the MTA provoked them into a strike by illegally insisting on forcing pension changes into any new contract. The MTA wants new employees to pay 6% of wages toward pensions, while the TWU wants to eliminate the existing 2% pension contribution and lower the retirement age from 55 to 50. Union leaders say the same law that bans strikes also bars pensions from being included in contract talks. “The MTA insisted on changes prohibited by the statute,” said TWU lawyer Arthur Schwartz. “They could have avoided the strike. They could have avoided the circumstances we find ourselves in.
” Some labor experts say pension changes can’t be part of a final contract, but can be discussed in negotiations. The union is also seeking raises of up to 8% in each of the next three years, more than twice the MTA’s final offer. The agency’s chief negotiator, Gary Dellaverson, said the MTA made two proposals in a row without a counteroffer, but couldn’t increase the total value of what it was offering the union.