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Thursday, December 29, 2005

TWU wins major victory

Toss me in the river? I don't fucking think
so, Mort.

New York Transit Deal Shows Union's Success on Many Fronts

He was excoriated on tabloid front pages and by the mayor and governor. As thousands streamed across the Brooklyn Bridge on a frigid night during last week's transit strike, someone in a car yelled out his name, prefacing it with a curse.

But now, a day after details of an agreement between the transit workers and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority were spelled out, Roger Toussaint, the union's president, seems to have emerged in a far better position than seemed likely just a few days ago.

Mr. Toussaint, whose back appeared to be against the wall last week, can boast of a tentative 37-month contract that meets most of his goals, including raises above the inflation rate and no concessions on pensions. Indeed, several fiscal and labor experts said yesterday that Mr. Toussaint and his union appeared to have bested the transit authority in their contract dispute.

The authority did not come away empty-handed, however, as it obtained a major concession: For the first time, the 33,700 transit workers will pay a portion of their health insurance premiums.

But if there is a real winner in the walkout that hobbled the city at the height of the holiday season, it is the union members who went out on strike, and the man who led them.

"It's a good contract for the union in that it does keep in place, for the most part, benefits that are extremely favorable to them," said Steven Malanga, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research organization, who called last week for firing the strikers. "For them, you can say this is a great deal."

When Mr. Toussaint appeared before television cameras at 11 p.m. on Tuesday to announce the settlement, he commented little except to read an impressive list of new worker-friendly provisions: raises averaging 3.5 percent a year, the creation of paid maternity leave, a far better health plan for retirees, a much-improved disability plan, the adoption of Martin Luther King's Birthday as a paid holiday, and increased "assault pay" for bus drivers and train operators who are attacked by passengers.

Then Mr. Toussaint announced a big surprise: Some 22,000 workers will each receive thousands of dollars in reimbursements for what are considered excess pension contributions; for several years, these workers paid more toward their pensions than other workers. For those workers, that money will easily offset the fines of slightly more than $1,000 that most of them face for taking part in the illegal strike. The union itself could still face a $3 million fine that a judge ordered because of the 60-hour strike.


All this is not to say that the transportation authority did not achieve some of its major goals. By getting the union, Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, to agree to have subway and bus workers pay 1.5 percent of their wages toward health premiums, the authority took an important step to rein in soaring benefit costs. That provision is expected to save the authority $32 million a year. Not only that, the union agreed that its workers' contribution toward their health premiums might increase if the authority's health costs continued to climb.

"It's a very good deal," said John Paul Patafio, a bus driver in Brooklyn. "We went in with them on the offensive on pensions, and we came out of it with pension reimbursements. It's a total reversal."


I'll have a lot more to say about the reaction to the strike, because it far outweighs the election in terms of importance to the city's future,. but let's make one thing clear, New York has changed.

If I ran one of the city's media organs, I'd seriously reconsider how I covered the news. Because the people I think I write for, I no longer do.

Roger Toussaint not only got a great deal for his members, but he faced down the city's media without so much as breaking a sweat. The Daily News and Post so miscovered the strike as to be rendered useless to the majority of New Yorkers. They kept looking for a groundswell of anger, when instead, there was a ground swell of support for the union among their public service and priovate industry peers. Did they think Con Ed and Verizon workers were going to
turn on their public sector union brothers and sisters?

It was an amazing miscalculation which walked Bloomberg into a fatal mistake. Calling the union members thugs was an amazing error of judgment, one, the well-connected mayor should have avoided.

What many people, including Jen, didn't understand, was the provenance of that word in black New York culture. First, in the tabs, it's only used to describe two groups of people, mafia goons and black and latino criminals. But that isn't why it blew up on Bloomberg.

It harks back to the the Central Park Jogger case where five teenagers were framed for the rape of a Wall Street banker. Donald Trump took out a full-page ad ranting about how these "thugs" needed to be punished.

When it turned out that all five had been framed, despite the open disbelief of the tabs. Michael Daly, the News lead columnist, and a Yalie, went so far as to try to link the innoncent boys, all of whom had unjustly served seven years in prison, to the crime despite DNA evidence to the contrary.

Then, Bloomberg violated the other key rule of New York life. You do not attack working people as criminals. If they work every day, you don't slander them like that.

But once those words flew from his mouth, it was the final card Toussaint needed in outplaying the MTA. Because that solidified minority support for his union. One poll showed 61 percent of black New Yorkers and 44 percent of Latinos supported the strike, along with 38 percent of whites.

Because that threw race on the table in a way Bloomberg didn't expect. But sure found out about when City Hall was deluged with calls from his black supporters.

What Bloomberg and many white New Yorkers forget is that the heart of the city's revival is not the Eurotrash and hipsters of Billyburg, but the working class and middle class union workers of the city's minorities. It is the TWU members and Con Ed and Verizon workers who not only keep this city running, but who also invest in the city's neighborhoods, demand better schools and send their kids to the city's colleges. They make New York work, where so many other cities failed. Unlike Washington DC, they didn't flee to the suburbs, leaving behind only the poor. Even the city's housing projects have large numbers of working people.

So to have the mayor insult the people who helped return him to office, reeked both of arrogance and racial insensitivity on a grand scale.

The fact was that the TWU and specifically, Roger Toussaint, had some pretty large reservoirs of good will going into this. The union had repeatedly asked for safety training, stood with riders on fair increases and opposed the land giveaway for stadiums. Which may not have mattered to some footsore white progressives, who demanded the "overpaid workers" be fired, but it mattered to many other New Yorkers.

But many people, like the racists at the Manhattan Institute, need to consider something: they are no longer relevant. They might have had a hearing in Giuliani's bitterly divided New York, but no future mayor can afford to take them seriously. Why? Because the majority of New Yorkers will not tolerate it.

Steven Malanga proved himself to be an idiot without recompense. Fire the workers? And replace these highly skilled and technically adept workers with whom? What he wanted to say was punish the colored for getting out of line, but political reality has changed. Minorities are the majority in New York, and his advice was suicidal.

The MTA caved on every issue, and offset the fines, something the mayor and governor swore would not happen, with pension payments, because they didn't have the public support and they knew it. Who knew what would happen in Albany with a longer strike? Would the Assembly start an investigation? Who knew? But the MTA calcuated on an angry public and they got one, but angry at them, not the union.

Bloomberg and Pataki not only lost, but look small and petty in the process.

The line of candidates to get the support of the TWU should be long in 2006.

posted by Steve @ 10:29:00 AM

10:29:00 AM

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