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Sunday, December 18, 2005

It's not the money


The MTA's three stooges

Transit Union Tries New Tack on Pensions

By SEWELL CHAN and STEVEN GREENHOUSE
Published: December 18, 2005

In a move that could alter the shape of its deadlocked contract negotiations, the transit workers' union intends to file a complaint with a state labor board today, asserting that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority cannot legally insist that the union accept less generous pensions for future subway and bus workers.

The union, Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, said yesterday that it would ask the state's Public Employment Relations Board to seek a court order barring the authority from making pension demands part of its final offer for a new contract. The authority, in response, dismissed the legal action as a public-relations ploy and asserted that both sides had traditionally discussed pensions in their contract talks.

Neither side moved from its position yesterday, although top negotiators met for about four hours before taking an afternoon recess. Talks resumed and then recessed once again about 11 p.m.

If the state board were to rule in the union's favor on the pension issue - an outcome the authority insisted is doubtful - it could compel the authority to drop its demand for a worse pension plan for future transit workers. That demand, both sides say, is the main obstacle to a settlement.

The dispute added a new wrinkle to the brinkmanship that has characterized the last several days. The authority has said that it has made its final offer. The union has set a new strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday for the whole transit system and another for 12:01 a.m. tomorrow at two private bus companies in Queens that are being transferred to the authority's control. Union officials said yesterday that they had asked the authority to put its best and final offer on the table by 9 p.m. Monday so the union's executive board would have time to consider it before the Tuesday deadline.

The union's president, Roger Toussaint, and the authority's chairman, Peter S. Kalikow, did not attend the talks yesterday, held at the Grand Hyatt hotel. Each side offered competing interpretations of the day's events to the journalists who have transformed hotel meeting rooms into a round-the-clock encampment.

At 3:10 p.m., the authority's chief negotiator, Gary J. Dellaverson, said he was optimistic. "We're negotiating," he said. "The talks have not broken off. At this stage of the game, I would say talking is progress."

Three hours later, Ed Watt, the union's secretary-treasurer, was less sanguine during a brief appearance. "Both sides are in what seem to be intractable positions," he said. "As a result, these negotiations have only been exploratory and, again, there has been no progress."
This is no longer about wages. 9 percent-12 percent, that can be hammered out.

But the MTA is forcing a strike over the pension.

It is absolutely unreasonable to ask people to perform backbreaking physical labor until 62. Many job titles in transit require either high stress, like driving a bus, or physical work, like repairing trains in open train yards in 20 degree weather and ice and snow. New York's subways run 24/7 and so does the work to maintain them.

Yet, the MTA wants people to condemn their children to work seven more years for a pension. And when you read Daily News editorals calling the MTA's offer "reasonable" keep this in mind: TWU workers encourage their relatives to work for the MTA because of the benefits. Especially if they have served in the military and get the points on the test.

So what the MTA, in a typically Republican move, want to do, is to have current workers place their self-interest over that of their children or other kin.

They don't want a two-tired workforce because they're not looking to hurt their kin. But to the people at the MTA, who want their kids to get nice, safe office jobs, seven additional years don't matter. But when your job requires physical labor, or physical risk, those seven years means you die on the job.

When the union was mostly Irish, the retirement age was 50. As it became black, the retirement age was raised to 55. Now that it is largely minority, they want to raise the age to 62. You don't see anyone expecting the uniformed services to work past 40. But what this really about is shutting up the union, which has been active in taking up ridership and security issues.

What Peter Kalikow's friends in the media won't tell you is that one of the main bargaining points the TWU has made is more and better security training. Which the MTA, which is insular and filled with shady insider deals, wants to avoid at all costs.

The reporters have been pushing the idea that the union backed down from a strike. This is not a debate for little kids, you don't get points for causing chaos. But there is no way in hell that they can accept a two-tier system with such a massive hike in the retirement age.

What people also have to consider, despite the bleating of the Manhattan Institute's Nicole Gelinas, is that city and state workers don't pay for their health care while working. If the TWU gives ground on this, Bloomberg will certainly ask for it from city workers. One percent isn't a big deal for office workers, but it means the beggining of the erosion of all worker protections, like defined pensions.

So while the TWU isn't perfect, the MTA is unreliable and untrustworthy.

posted by Steve @ 11:05:00 AM

11:05:00 AM

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