The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 2           January 16, 2006  
N.Y. transit workers proud
to have stood up to boss attacks
(front page)
NEW YORK—Nearly 34,000 bus and subway workers returned to work here December 23 following a three-day strike proud of their strength in standing up to company attacks on pensions, health coverage, and working conditions despite the Taylor law, which bans walkouts by public employees. “I’d go on strike again, right now, for a better contract,” Anthony Dejesus, a bus driver for six years, told the Militant January 2 at the Michael J. Quill bus depot in Manhattan.

Under the Taylor law public workers in New York State who strike are liable for fines of two days’ pay for each day off the job. Transit workers in this case may be slapped with fines of up to $1,000 each. Transport Workers Union Local 100 has already been hit for $3 million. The courts have scheduled further hearings on collecting these fines.

The transit workers shut down the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA) operations December 20—five days after the contract’s expiration—following repeated refusals by the bosses to budge on demands for a two-tier retirement plan under which new hires would pay 6 percent of wages toward their pension.

“Going on strike was worth it because we maintained our equal status—active workers and new workers,” Daniel Bozan, a bus mechanic in the Bronx with five years on the job, told the Militant. The MTA demand for a two-tier plan “would have caused a division in the membership, and eventually the ‘new hires’ with worse benefits would become the majority,” he said.

On December 27 the union executive board and the MTA announced a settlement that the ranks will vote on by mail over the coming weeks. The MTA withdrew its pension demands. But the union negotiators conceded the introduction of a 1.5 percent deduction from workers’ paychecks slated to go toward their health plan.

“If we start paying even 1 percent for medical care, it will be more down the road,” Donald Tough, who works at the northern Manhattan subway maintenance base, said while leaving work January 3. “And not just for us, but for all municipal workers.” The tentative contract states, “In future years, the 1.5% contribution rate shall be increased by the extent to which the rate of increase in the cost of health benefits exceeds general wage increases.”

Vidal Acevedo, a bus operator at the Jackie Gleason depot in Brooklyn, thought the original contract offer was better because the concessions didn’t affect current employees. “The new people haven’t been hired yet,” he said. “They have 30 years to fight to get the pension back.”

The 37-month deal includes annual wage raises of 3 percent, 4 percent, and 3.5 percent. Retirees too young to qualify for Medicare or who live outside the New York metropolitan area would receive the same medical coverage as active workers under the agreement. Local 100’s list of contract highlights says workers will receive “maternity pay for the first time ever” as well as the holiday for Martin Luther King’s birthday in January.

The contract offer provides refunds to as many as 20,000 Local 100 members for overpayments into the pension plan between 1994 and 2001. According to news reports, a “side agreement” to the contract commits the MTA to cover the costs of this refund if Governor George Pataki vetoes the legislation that is needed to pay for the refunds.

“I never had any briefing or knowledge that there was a side agreement,” Pataki said January 1. “I made it plain from the beginning: You don’t reward illegal strikes.”

The big-business media has tried to convince working people that standing up for their rights will gain them nothing. “This was a strike that never needed to happen, and we hope that message reverberates in the future,” said an editorial in the December 29 New York Times.

As for the fight for dignity on the job, the contract proposal offers only MTA promises to hire a consultant to review the disciplinary system under which bosses wrote up unionists 15,000 times in 2004 alone. Salvador Soto, a bus maintenance worker at Triboro Coach in Queens, said the proposed contract “doesn’t do what’s needed to change the discipline. They write you up for any little thing.” He was one of about 700 workers at the private Jamaica Buses and Triboro Coach—without a contract for three years—who walked out the day before the other Local 100 members. These lines are slated to be taken over by the MTA early this year.

“The MTA is always playing games. It uses the Taylor law to hold us down,” said Soto. “But it was right to strike. There was unity. We came back with some kind of pride. We showed we have a voice.”

Brian Taylor contributed to this article.  
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