Thursday, December 22, 2005

TWU Local 100 Executive Board Votes to End Strike, Return to Work

For more information log on to the TWU Local 100 website:

Dec. 22--The first NYC system-wide transit strike in 25 years ended today. Local 100 had to walk out to stop the TA’s 11th hour pension ambush. We walked out strong, and we walk back stronger. Thousands of transit workers have been on freezing cold picket lines around the clock for three days. The vote of the TWU Local 100 Executive Board to overwhelmingly accept the recommendation of the New York State Mediators means we will now start reporting to work.

In the face of an unprecedented media assault, the average New Yorker supported the TWU and blamed the MTA for the strike. Our riders knew we did not abandon them, and they did not abandon us. Public support from unions, communities, clergy and elected officials helped create the atmosphere for an end to the strike.

The details will be coming to all transit workers very soon. Every TWU member should be proud that our Union stood up for justice.

Stay United! Stay Strong!

December 22, 2005

State Mediators' Plan Clears Way to Resolve 60-Hour Ordeal

New York Times

On the third day of a citywide transit strike that has left millions without subway and bus service, union members began returning to work this afternoon, ending a 60-hour walkout that caused much hardship but also put on display the creativity and resilience of New York commuters. Union leaders ordered an end to the strike, the first in 25 years, early this afternoon after state mediators brokered a deal with transit officials.

Limited subway and bus service could resume later tonight, though normal service might not be restored until early Friday morning, officials said. "We have an enormous system," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a City Hall press conference. "It can't be turned on or off with a flip of a switch."

"This was really a very big test for our city and I think it's fair to say we passed the test with flying colors," the mayor said. "We did what we had to do to keep the city running and running safely." The order to return to work came after executive board of the Transit Workers Union, Local 100, voted 38 to 5 with two abstentions to accept a preliminary framework of a settlement as a basis to end the walkout.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority had already agreed to the framework, which was devised by state mediators after all-night negotiations with the union and the authority. "We thank riders for their patience and forbearance," Roger Toussaint, the president of the union, said outside union headquarters this afternoon. "We will be providing various details regarding the outcome of this strike in the next several days."

A few minutes earlier, one of the executive board members, George Perlstein, who said he had voted against the settlement plan, angrily told reporters that the union had not achieved its goals. "We got nothing," he said. "Absolutely nothing." On its Web site, the union claimed victory and told members to "Hold your head high when you report to work."

"In the face of an unprecedented media assault, the average New Yorker supported the TWU and blamed the MTA for the strike," the union said in a statement. Even as workers began returning to work, Gov. George E. Pataki said penalties against union members and leaders for the illegal walkout would stand. "There is a lesson to be learned from this: no one is above the law. You break the law and the consequences are real," he said at a press conference at Rockefeller Center. "They cannot be waived. They will not be waived."

But a short time later, noting the need for both sides to complete their negotiations, Justice Theodore T. Jones of the State Supreme Court adjourned until Jan. 20 a hearing on possible fines and jail terms for union leaders under the Taylor Law prohibiting strikes by public employees. The hearing was originally scheduled for this morning and later delayed till 4 p.m.

The strike forced New Yorkers, who are heavily dependent upon public transportation, to walk, bike, hitchhike and endure traffic jams as early as 3:30 a.m. to get into Manhattan for work. Weary commuters welcomed the end of the strike.

"I'm relieved," Jennifer Stephens, 29, a publicist who lives in West New York, N.J., and works in downtown Brooklyn, said at Grand Central Terminal this afternoon. "I can't believe they went on strike to begin with." Ms. Stephens said the strike had forced her to take three days off work, and said, "I didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't have any more days I could take off." She added that she had not been able to shop for Christmas. "It was frustrating. It put my life on hold. I wasn't able to get anything done."

Workers received word of the strike's end in the middle of the afternoon. At the Casey Stengel bus depot on Roosevelt Avenue, across from Shea Stadium in Queens, about 100 picketing workers looked surprised after a union official at the site got a call on a cellphone, then picked up a megaphone and announced that the strike was over.

"If you're on for a 4 o'clock shift, you have to go to work," the official said. There was some confusion among workers, who didn't have their work uniforms with them and had questions about the end of the walkout. "I feel like we lost if we go back to work without a contract," said Fazlu Miah, 43, of Queens, a bus driver who works out of the depot.

In a statement, Lawrence G. Reuter, president of New York city Transit, said that restarting the system was "complicated," and would take between 10 and 18 hours for subways - and "somewhat" less than that for buses. "As employees report to duty, an assessment is made to determine what level of service can be provided with the personnel available," the statement said.

"By the time the first trains are ready to roll, all 468 subway stations will be opened, but service levels will be ramped up incrementally." He said the system would have to undergo thorough safety inspections as well. Word of a possible end to the strike began filtering out earlier in the day and was made officially announced by state mediators.

"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 lead state mediator, said at a news conference this morning.

However, he noted that a final contract agreement would still take some work. "While these discussions have been fruitful, an agreement remains out of the parties' reach at this time," he said. "It is clear to us, however, that both parties have a genuine desire to resolve their differences."

The return-to-work agreement, said several people close to the negotiations who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitive stage of the talks, would give every side some of what it asked for. It would allow Mr. 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 Mr. Toussaint, the union's president, to save face because, they believe, the authority's pension demands - which are at the crux of the deadlock - have been significantly scaled back.

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, 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 news was 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 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.

In addition to disagreements over pensions, the union and the M.T.A. have also had a difficult time on health care benefits.

The transportation authority had originally demanded that future transit workers contribute 2 percent of their pay toward health premiums. It reduced that demand to 1 percent several days before the strike deadline, then dropped it altogether, just hours before the strike deadline. Current workers do not pay premiums for the union's basic health plan. Mr. Toussaint's union has repeatedly said he would not agree to a contract that treated future workers worse than current workers - on pension or health insurance.

Several people close to the negotiations said they expected the two sides to discuss proposals to have the union agree to have all workers, current and future, pay health premiums Repeatedly saying that he wants to beat back the wave of concessions demanded by managements across the country, Mr. Toussaint has also insisted that he would not agree to a contract that required all workers to pay health premiums. Mr. Toussaint had attacked the mayor and the governor Wednesday 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."

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.

Reporting for this article was contributed by Steven Greenhouse, Vikas Bajaj, Matthew Sweeney, Corey Kilgannon, Michael Cooper, Janon Fisher, Thomas J. Lueck, Jesse McKinley, Colin Moynihan, Fernanda Santos and Shadi Rahimi.

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