Thursday, December 22, 2005

December 22, 2005

No Timetable Is Announced on Resumption of Service

By STEVE GREENHOUSE and SEWELL CHAN
New York Times

After meeting with both sides through the night, state mediators have devised a preliminary framework for a settlement of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority contract dispute that would allow strikers to return to work later today, the chief mediator said. It is not clear when members of Transit Workers Union, Local 100, would return to work to get subways and buses running again.

The union's executive board must first accept the settlement framework, although mediators said the union's leaders had agreed to ask the executive board to approve the recommendations.

"In the best interests of the public, which both parties serve, we have suggested, and they have agreed, to resume negotiations while the T.W.U. takes steps toward returning its membership to work," Richard A. Curreri, the board's director of conciliation, said at a news conference this morning. "Over the last 48 hours we have met separately with both T.W.U. and the M.T.A.," he said.

"While these discussions have been fruitful, an agreement remains out of the parties' reach at this time. It is clear to us, however, that both parties have a genuine desire to resolve their differences." Details of a settlement could take at least a day or two longer to be finalized, although buses and subways would be running before that.

The agreement, said several people close to the negotiations, would give every side some of what it asked for. The people insisted on anonymity because of the sensitive stage of the negotiations.

The proposal would allow Gov. George E. Pataki to save face because the final negotiations would not take place until the strikers return to work, the people said, and it would apparently allow the union's president, Roger Toussaint, to save face because, they believe, the authority's pension demands - which are at the crux of the deadlock - have been significantly scaled back.

In light of the progress in negotiations, State Supreme Court Justice Theodore T. Jones delayed a hearing scheduled for this morning on possible fines and jail terms for union leaders under the Taylor Law, which prohibits strikes by public employees.

The hearing was rescheduled for 4 p.m. today.

In Albany, Governor Pataki hailed the progress, and credited the Taylor Law, which requires mediation once an impasse is declared. "I just am pleased the Taylor Law, that sets up this process, was in this case followed by both sides and moved things forward in a positive way," Mr. Pataki said in a televised news conference.

Mr. Curreri and two other mediators were appointed by the state's Public Employment Relations Board on Tuesday afternoon after the union declared a strike at 3 a.m. that day and the authority said the talks had reached an impasse. Mr. Curreri, the board's director of conciliation, met with lawyers for the union, Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, that afternoon.

Mr. Curreri also invited two veteran mediators - Martin F. Scheinman, a longtime arbitrator who has negotiated many labor agreements, and Alan R. Viani, the former chief negotiator at D.C. 37, the city's largest municipal workers union - to join him. All three met with both sides for hours at a time on Wednesday and into the night. The authority's chairman, Peter S. Kalikow, and Mr. Toussaint both participated in the talks on Wednesday and early this morning, the people said.

Even if the union calls for strikers to return to work, it could be 18 hours before service is fully restored. Most of the 6,300 subway cars have been placed in underground tunnels or in train yards, one next to another. Supervisors have been running empty trains over the rails to keep the rails polished and prevent rust. The 4,600 buses have been stored and guarded at 18 depots.

Employees would have to return to their shifts, tracks and signals would have to be inspected, and subway cars and buses examined before the subways and buses could run. If all employees promptly returned at the start of their next shift, some subways could begin to run eight hours after managers and supervisors get word that the strikers are returning, officials said.

The news is an abrupt change from Wednesday's developments, when a war of rhetoric surrounding the strike entered a louder and more contentious phase, with Mr. Toussaint demanding that thorny pension issues be removed from the table before the strikers returned to work. But Governor Pataki joined Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in saying that the transit workers must end the strike before negotiations could resume, contradicting the M.T.A.'s earlier position that it would talk anytime.

The authority took the highly unusual step of running television advertisements urging individual workers to return to their jobs. Even so, there was evidence of a willingness to compromise, at least behind the scenes, as both sides met separately with state mediators - the first possible step toward taking the dispute to arbitration.

And late last night, members of the union's executive board were summoned to headquarters for an emergency meeting at 1 a.m. Then, a short time later, it was postponed indefinitely. For his part, Mr. Toussaint attacked the mayor and the governor for what he called the use of "insulting and offensive language," apparently referring to the mayor's characterization of the strike by the city's 33,700 subway and bus workers as "thuggish" and "selfish."

In a speech that belied the union's tenuous position - it is already being fined $1 million a day - Mr. Toussaint seemed to cast the conflict in a social-justice context. In describing the struggle of his largely minority union, he invoked the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, saying: "There is a higher calling than the law. That is justice and equality."

Despite Mr. Toussaint's vow not to return to the table until the pension demand was dropped, he and his top lawyers were meeting with state mediators for hours at a time. State mediation could have either led to a solution to the differences, or forced the two sides to binding arbitration.

While Mr. Toussaint reiterated his opposition to binding arbitration, he did not rule it out. And while Governor Pataki vowed that there would be no negotiations as long as workers were striking, Peter S. Kalikow, the chairman of the authority, was in the Grand Hyatt hotel Wednesday night, suggesting he was still willing to meet with Mr. Toussaint. Though he issued a statement highly critical of Mr. Toussaint's words, it included language hinting the authority still wanted to talk.

Mayor Bloomberg recited a litany of misery brought on by the strike: business was down 40 percent in some restaurants and 60 percent in some stores; home health aides were unable to reach their patients; people were delaying chemotherapy and radiation; the New York Blood Center declared a state of emergency; attendance at museums and theaters was down; the holiday crowds on Fifth Avenue had thinned. After the first day of chaos, there were signs that systems were being fine-tuned and people were adapting.

Some suburban trains took to skipping stops to get into Manhattan faster. Police checkpoints ran more smoothly. Still, the evening rush was as chaotic as Tuesday night's, with long lines almost everywhere. More cars entered Manhattan. About 36,000 cars entered between 5 and 10 a.m., up 18 percent over Tuesday, said Kay Sarlin, a spokeswoman for the City Department of Transportation.

The Staten Island ferry had more passengers than usual; commuters thronged ferry terminals at the Brooklyn Army Terminal and at Hunters Point in Long Island City. The city reopened Fifth and Madison Avenues, which had been closed to all but emergency vehicles on the first day. There were scattered reports of price gouging by taxi and livery car drivers, the mayor said. The burden of the strike fell unevenly upon New Yorkers of different classes. For many living in Manhattan, the strike remained an inconvenience, not a hardship.

Some, like Dave Halman, a 35- year-old Wall Street banker, worked from home the first day. On Wednesday, he was out on West 96th Street waiting for a company shuttle. "It's fine," he said. "We went through the blackout, 9/11 and now most people are taking this in stride." But for many more, the impact was harsher.

Stan Decker said he had walked nearly seven miles from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn to Jamaica, Queens. "They're hurting the ordinary people, they're not hurting the big shots," Mr. Decker, 59, said of the union. A union member himself, he complained, "Everybody's paying for health insurance. Why should they be different? When they overdo it like this, they hurt unions because if gives people a bad impression."

In its television advertisement, broadcast on the local cable channel NY1 News, the president of New York City Transit, Lawrence G. Reuter, said that "many hundreds of employees have already reported to work and we commend them." He urged employees to report to designated locations, listed on the agency's Web site, to avoid "severe legal and financial consequences."

On picket lines outside a bus depot in Midtown Manhattan and outside a transit plant, on West 53rd Street, some striking workers hinted they were having second thoughts. They said they live paycheck to paycheck, burdened with mortgages, many with children and ailing relatives to care for. Some said they had begun to wonder if they would be the ones to lose the most. Mayor Bloomberg, too, raised the question of whom the strike is hurting. "Roger Toussaint and the board have sought to portray the strike as a fight for working people," he said at a news conference.

"That argument doesn't hold any water. Working people are the ones that are being hurt. Busboys are getting hurt, garment industry workers are getting hurt, owners of mom-and-pop businesses are being hurt." The transit strike, the first in a quarter century, began at 3 a.m. Tuesday after negotiations between the union and the transit authority broke down over the authority's last-minute demand that all new transit workers contribute 6 percent of their wages toward their pensions - up from the 2 percent that current workers pay.

The authority has said it needs to rein in its soaring pension costs. Mr. Toussaint has argued that, under state law, it is illegal for the authority to insist on including a pension demand as part of a settlement. At a news conference, Mr. Pataki said: "There aren't going to be any talks while you're out there walking. Come back to work. And then the M.T.A., I'm sure, will be willing to engage in negotiations. But not while you're engaged in an illegal strike."

Asked about the union's demand that pensions be taken off the table, the governor said, "I don't care what the union says, until they come back to work." The governor's staff would not elaborate on his words, nor say whether they represented a change in the state's stance. Mr. Kalikow, who was appointed by the governor, said in his statement that the authority was ready to negotiate, but warned ominously that time was running out.

"The M.T.A. has remained in the hotel since the strike commenced, ready to negotiate," Mr. Kalikow said. He added: "It is becoming clear that we are rapidly approaching the point at which further waiting would be futile." Justice Jones ordered the union leaders to appear in court to face contempt charges and possibly jail. He also agreed to consider a request by the city for a temporary restraining order, which could lead to strikers being assessed additional fines.

Justice Jones brought up the possibility of jail for top union officials during proceedings in which James B. Henly, the lead state lawyer in the case, was seeking fines against Mr. Toussaint and two other officials of Local 100 - Ed Watt, the secretary-treasurer and Darlyne A. Lawson, the recording secretary. The union's lawyer, Arthur Z. Schwartz, argued that the judge could not rule on the state's request for fines against the three officials because they were in mediation, and not present in court.

Although he had not been asked by the state, the authority or the city to jail any union officials, Justice Jones said "one or more of these people could possibly be sent to jail" and agreed that they needed to be present. Mr. Toussaint, at his news conference, reiterated the union's argument that the authority had forced the union to strike by illegally insisting on pension changes. Under the state's Taylor Law, one side cannot make pensions a condition of a settlement. But in 1994 and in 1999, both sides agreed on pension changes. "We are prepared to resume negotiations, right away, right this minute," he said.

"If the pension issue were taken off the table, that would form the basis for us to ask our members - to ask our executive board - to ask our members to go back to work." Reporting for this article was contributed by Michael Cooper, Janon Fisher, Thomas J. Lueck, Jesse McKinley, Colin Moynihan, Fernanda Santos, Shadi Rahimi and Timothy Williams.


December 22, 2005

The Subtext Race Bubbles to the Surface in Standoff

By DIANE CARDWELL
New York Times

The standoff between the Transport Workers Union and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, tense and perilous, was already taking a harsh physical and economic toll on New Yorkers. But now, as representatives of a mostly nonwhite work force trade recriminations publicly with white leaders in government and at the transportation authority, the potentially volatile issue of race, with all its emotional consequences, is bubbling to the surface.

The examples are both blatant and subtle, some open to interpretation, some openly hostile. Regarding the latter sort, the union - representing workers who are largely minority - shut down a Web log where the public could comment on the strike after it became so clogged with messages comparing the workers to monkeys and calling them "you people." (Seventy percent of the employees of New York City Transit are black, Latino or Asian-American.) And what may have begun inadvertently, when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on Tuesday that union leaders had "thuggishly turned their backs on New York City," took on a life of its own yesterday as minority leaders and union members attacked the mayor's conduct as objectionable, or worse.

"There has been some offensive and insulting language used," said Roger Toussaint, the union leader. "This is regrettable and it is certainly unbecoming for the mayor of the city of New York to be using this type of language." But others were more extreme in their response. Leroy Bright, 56, a black bus operator who is also a union organizer, saw racial coding in Mr. Bloomberg's choice of words.

"The word thug is usually attributed to people of color whenever something negative takes place," he said, adding that the language was "unnecessarily hostile." The Rev. Al Sharpton, who called an evening news conference to blast Mr. Bloomberg, said in an interview: "How did we become thugs? Because we strike over a pension?" "I do not think the language would have been used in a union that was not as heavily populated by people of color," he added. "And whether he intentionally did it or not, he offended a lot of people of color and he ought to address that, and come to the bargaining table."

Earlier in the day, the Rev. Herbert D. Daughtry, a Brooklyn pastor, joined elected officials at a City Hall news conference and compared Mr. Bloomberg to Eugene (Bull) Connor, the Alabama police chief who used police dogs and fire hoses on civil rights protesters in the 1960's. Ed Skyler, a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, dismissed those comments, saying, "It's despicable for anyone to inject race into this situation."

He noted that when police and fire union members were trailing the mayor during contract negotiations, Mr. Skyler had accused them of "acting like thugs," to little comment. But for all the accusations and counter-accusations, clues of a simmering racial tension have hovered over the contract negotiations between the union and the transit authority all along. Mr. Toussaint, for instance, continued yesterday to cast the strike as part of a broader movement for social justice and invoked the civil rights movement, as he often does in his calls to respect the dignity of his workers.

"Had Rosa Parks answered the call of the law instead of the higher call of justice, many of us who are driving buses today would instead be at the back of the bus," he said. Mr. Toussaint added that he was the one who pointed out that the authority did not honor the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The authority, in its offer on Monday night, agreed to create such a holiday, an action estimated to cost $9 million a year.

Indeed, the politics of the strike are in some ways embedded in the broader demographic changes in the city. Mr. Toussaint, who is originally from Trinidad, leads a union, now dominated by blacks, Latinos and Asian- Americans, whose members were once mostly of European descent. "Clearly race is a subtext of much of what has happened in city politics, in the ethnic succession within unions and city agencies," said Douglas A. Muzzio, a professor at the Baruch School of Public Affairs, who said he saw nothing inherently racial in the use of the term thuggish.

Among members of the Transport Workers Union, however, there is a real and bitter sense that city leaders speak of them differently from members of other unions, like those of police officers and firefighters, whose memberships are whiter. For instance, George McAnanama, a semi-retired union leader and former transit worker said transit employees have received less praise for their contributions during city emergencies like the 2001 terror attack and the 2003 blackout.

"Whenever there's praise given out we're always the stepchild if we're mentioned at all," he said.

Now, that sense of injustice has more fully emerged among workers on strike and is being championed by elected officials from the City Council to Congress. Mr. Sharpton made the civil rights connection explicit, noting that when Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, he was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers' strike, a strike also held to be illegal.

Sewell Chan and Mike McIntire contributed reporting for this article.

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