Friday, February 03, 2006

Fairly accurate assesment of TWU fight

Underground revolt in TWU
NY Daily News

Nearly two weeks ago, the 33,000 members of Transport Workers Union Local 100 stunned everyone in this town when they rejected a new MTA labor pact by a razor-thin margin of seven votes.

The proposed contract brought a mercifully swift end to the three-day Christmas week strike that was crippling the city. The pact had been hammered out in around-the-clock talks by a state mediator, only to be attacked by Gov. Pataki after the details were announced.

Now we learn that the biggest opposition to the contract, which had the strong backing of union President Roger Toussaint, came from subway conductors and motormen - the very group that catapulted Toussaint to power nearly six years ago.

A majority in eight of 13 transit divisions voted for the pact, including union members who work in buses, repair shops and maintenance, according to full voting results released by TWU leaders Tuesday night. But an overwhelming "no" vote from conductors (1,631 to 676) and motormen (1,705 to 791) sealed its defeat.

"Subways have always been the most militant," one surprised union leader told me yesterday. "They have a history of rejecting contracts - but not by this much."

It was a humiliating setback for Toussaint, who became nationally known by leading the city's first transit strike in 25 years.

The contract proposal he negotiated, while not perfect, clearly preserved union pensions, provided a decent wage package and secured a huge pension refund for 20,000 members. It did, however, give one big concession to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority - 1.5% of wages would go to an improved health plan for retirees.

With the enormous pressures aligned against the union, Toussaint still claims it was the best he could get. From here, I'd have to agree.

The contract rejection, on the other hand, leaves the union's members precisely where they didn't want to be - working without a contract.

Furthermore, it leaves the public exposed to possible wildcat actions or work-to-rule slowdowns by disgruntled groups of union members.

The MTA, in its usual arrogant fashion, has only made things worse by rescinding its original offer and demanding binding arbitration - something it knows the union will never accept.

The longer this drags out, the worse things could get.

That's because the pact's rejection has reignited a long-running, bitter campaign against Toussaint's leadership by an assortment of dissident groups who are already positioning themselves to launch slates to challenge him in the upcoming November union election.


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