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<nettime> NYC Transit Strike Article in Telepolis
Ronda Hauben on Wed, 21 Dec 2005 09:03:12 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> NYC Transit Strike Article in Telepolis

It would be good to see support for the transit workers who are on strike.
If there is any way to let others know about the strike that would be
appreciated. Ronda

   New York City Transit Workers Strike Against Cutback Contract Offer
        Lower Pension Benefits For New Hires Causes Strike
                                 by Ronda Hauben


At 3:05 am on Tuesday, December 20, 2005, Roger Toussaint, the President
of the New York Transit Workers Union (TWU) announced that the transit
workers who operate the New York City buses and subways, were on strike.
This is the first transit strike in New York City in the past 25 years.
The last strike lasted 11 days and was in 1980.

Toussaint said that the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which is in
charge of the transit system, has a $1 billion surplus.(1) Yet the contract
offer the MTA made provides little of a wage increase and is a contractual
cutback in health and pension benefits, as new hires would be required to pay
more for their benefits.

An important issue that has caused the strike is that the MTA contract offer
would pay new hires lower pension benefits. This is a strategy to divide the
union and weaken it by creating a two tier system, with one set of workers
having better benefits than another set. Also such a system provides a
material incentive for management to harass older workers and to try to get
rid of them, so as to replace them with lower paid employees.  A serious
grievance of transit workers is that they are already subjected to unjust
disciplinary actions by management.

"This is a fight over whether hard work will be rewarded with a decent
retirement -- over the erosion or eventual elimination of health benefit
coverage for working people," said Toussaint.

The President of the Transport Workers Union of American, the parent union
of the TWU, is reported to have said he wasn't in support of the strike and
that the union should return to the bargaining table instead of striking.
Without a strike, though, workers felt there was not much of a reason
for the MTA to change the hardball tactics they were using against
the workers. Toussaint explained:

"The MTA knew that reducing health and pension standards at the authority
would be unacceptable to our union. They knew there was no good economic
reason for their hard line on this issue - not with a billion dollar surplus.
They went ahead anyway." (2)

Toussaint also noted that the Mayor and the Governor have encouraged the
hardline tactics of the MTA rather than supporting a serious effort to
settle the contract dispute.

The Union initially asked for an 8% wage increase each year, but reduced
that to 6%. But they were committed to maintaining the same pension benefits
for new hires as for older workers.

A small wage increase of 3%, 4% and 3-1/2% in the 3 years of the contract
was offered but as the new hires would have to pay more for their pensions,
this would effectively give them an even lower wage than other union workers.

A rally was held on Monday in support of the transit workers. Some of the
issues raised by transit workers as problems they have been faced with include
the closing of toll booths and the reassignment of workers to cleaning and
other chores, the large number of disciplinary actions against workers, and
the proposal to eliminate the conductor on trains who is there to monitor
what is happening with the train and the passengers. (3) The sentiment among
union members in the city is that they are fed up with management insisting
on 'givebacks' and continually cutting workers' wages and benefits.
Other unions said they would do what they could to support the transit

There is a law called the Taylor Law which prohibits public employees in
New York from striking. The MTA has gotten a preliminary injunction from
the New York State Supreme Court that will allow it to impose large fines
on the union, and fine each worker two days pay for each day they strike.
Also  Mayor Bloomberg has filed a lawsuit asking that the workers be fined
$25,000 each day they strike.

The transit workers feel that if they don't stand up for better working
conditions when there is a surplus in the budget, that they will only
be agreeing to ever worsening working conditions. The transit workers
are in a stronger position than other workers in the city in terms of their
ability to fight for better conditions. If they win the strike, that
is a support for other workers in their fight for higher wages and better
working conditions. If the transit workers agree to accept cutbacks in their
benefits and even poorer working conditions, that encourages other employers
to lower wages and benefits.

Toussaint said that the transit workers did not want to strike. They had let
the deadline for the strike on Thursday pass, and continued to try to
negotiate. The response of the MTA, however, was to continue to demand
cutbacks from the union. The transit workers have called on all in the city
to recognize their importance of the strike and "to rally in solidarity to
show that the TWU doesn't stand alone."(4)


(1) The MTA has a history of hiding their surpluses and keeping different
sets of books. See for example:

(2) http://twulocal100.blogspot.com/2005/12/toussaint-twu-local-100-on-strike.html

(3) See http://nyc.indymedia.org/en/2005/12/62121.html

(4) The web site for the union is: http://www.twulocal100.org
     The web site for the MTA is: http://www.mta.info/

              This article appears in Telepolis and is reprinted
                   with their permission

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