Published: April 23, 2012
Publication: Daily News
By Pete Donohue
It has been more than six years since the nightmare-before-Christmas transit strike, and still the dust has not settled.
More than 12,000 bus and subway workers aren’t “in good standing” with their union because they are behind on paying dues — outstanding accounts that are rooted in the strike’s legal fallout.
That detail, included in a recent financial filing, means that about one out of every three members of the Transport Workers Union Local 100 are not eligible to vote for union president, secretary treasurer and many other posts up for election at year’s end.
Unless these bus and subway workers cut checks to the local to clear their balances, they won’t be able to participate in a ratification vote on the next contract negotiated by the union and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
“Many will probably never be in good standing again,” one union staffer predicted.
The filing — an annual report unions must file with the U.S. Department of Labor — illustrates how Local 100 has yet to fully recover from the 2005 strike that shut down the bus and subway systems for three days before Christmas.
Strikes by public employes are legal in many countries where it is considered a right of working men and women to withhold their labor from an employer in order to improve or protect the terms of their employment.
But here, a judge slammed Local 100 with massive fines and docked workers two days pay for every day they spent on the picket line. The judge, who was subsequently promoted to a higher court, also cut off the union’s main source of income for nearly two years — having a member’s dues automatically deducted from their paycheck.
Local 100 has more than 37,000 members, and all but a few thousand work for the MTA. Logistically, as well as politically, getting every member to pay bimonthly dues in the absence of the automatic deductions was an impossible task. Not surprisingly, many members missed or decided to skip some payments.
While the courts eventually decided it had punished Local 100 enough and restored the automatic deductions, outstanding balances remained; they ranged from less than $100 to more than $900. Soon after the strike, the number of members in bad standing was much higher. Just three years ago, the figure stood at about 19,000. That count has been reduced through union outreach — and attrition.
Whether the strike was necessary and, more importantly, successful, depends on whom is asked.
Arthur Schwartz, a longtime Local 100 lawyer and adviser, said the union came out of the battle with a good contract. It included annual raises of 3%, 4% and 3.5%. Furthermore, the union defeated a management push for a less-generous pension for new hires, Schwartz added.
But others say the union’s finances were left in a shambles, and that leadership gave ground for a contract that proved to be worse for the workers than what was on the table when the job action began. Instead of new hires getting less lucrative pensions, the final contract included first-ever worker contributions for basic health insurance coverage.
“There’s still a lot of hard feelings over the strike,” one transit worker admitted.