Tuesday, December 20, 2005

In Support of the TWU

Well, I did my first walk of the 2005 transit strike.

As I walked, listening to my iPod, I pondered how I felt about this strike.

Under the state's Taylor Law, the TWU is clearly in violation of the law, and is in danger of serious and severe sanctions. Which means they must be serious about the issues on the table. Maximum penalties under this law are two days salary for each day's strike, plus potential arrest and imprisonment.

And that's just the rank and file.

So what precisely are the issues involved?

First of course, is a salary increase. Even the MTA, including Peter Kalikow and his handler, Governor George Pataki, acknowledge the union deserves a serious wage hike. Three years ago, the MTA was pleading near-bankruptcy, the September 11 attacks had crippled major subway and bus lines and wiped out an awful lot of the ridership (just after some major improvements had been implemented to improve service and keep costs down). The TWU had threatened a strike in 2002, but the strike never came close to materializing, as Roger Toussaint sympathized with the MTA's woes.

Miracle of miracles, six months later, the MTA was running a big surplus! This, after effectively cutting fares, improving service frequency and reliability.

Think the TWU was a little, um, miffed? After all, they, like the rest of us, believed the MTA's sob story. So this time around, with the MTA claiming a billion dollar surplus (is it really only a billion dollars?), the TWU asked for a three year contract with a raise of 6% a year.

The latest MTA offer is a three year contract of 3, 4, and 4 percent increases. So they're not far apart on this issue.

Next, the pension.

The MTA wants new employees to kick in 6% of the annual pension funding for their benefit for the first ten years of employment, and a raise in the retirement age from 55 to 62.

It sounds reasonable, right? I mean, most 20 year olds don't contribute to 401(k)s in the corporate world, feel they're going to live forever, and so why not force them to put a little away for their old age?

well, that little obstacle, the Taylor Law addresses this issue as well, sort of. Imposed by the Taylor Law is a good-faith arrangement that prohibits the state from materially changing the collective bargaining agreement. In other words, the pension benefit that was in force at the time the Taylor Law was passed has to remain unchanged (but not unaltered).

So this request of the MTA to alter the pension plan may be in violation of the Taylor Law. If so, state law is very clear on this point: if the union can show that the MTA was attempting to force a change in the basic agreement (in this case, the pension benefit), the union can show that the MTA was in effect coercing the union in negotiations by dangling the Taylor Law sanctions in front of them, which would make the strike legal, and the penalties imposed would have to be rescinded.

Almost every other public employees union in the state has raised an alarm about this particular aspect of the negotiations, because if one union is forced to submit to these rules, then all pensions are in danger, not only of being altered, but dismantled.

Next issue, the MTA wants the union members to contribute 1% of the health care premium. Right now, they pay nothing. Again, this sounds reasonable, and perhaps the union will cave on this provision, but it would violate the Taylor Law spirit.

Next, holidays. The TWU wants the MTA to add Martin Luther King's birthday as a paid holiday (which would also impose overtime rules for employees that worked that day). MLK's Birthday is a federal holiday, and the MTA has warmed up to this request.

Finally, and this to me is an overlooked issue: The TWU wants disaster-preparedness training, following transit system bombings in Madrid and London.

See, say what you will about the police, both undercover and uniformed personnel in train stations and on trains, the bus and subway operators are the city's first line of defense against a terror attack in the transit system.

The police can't be everywhere. The TWU has to be. And that alone should justify support of the TWU.

The International TWU has disavowed any authorization of this strike, saying they pleaded with Toussaint to hold off on a job action.

Bunch of pussies. No wonder unions are dying in America.

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