The Chief
May 5, 2006

MTA Chairman Blocks Vote On TWU Contract;

'Bad Faith,' Charges Union; Toussaint Ends Jail Term

By GINGER ADAMS OTIS

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Peter S. Kalikow quashed hopes for a speedy resolution to the ongoing labor dispute with Transport Workers' Union Local 100 April 26 by refusing to let board members vote on the contract approved by the local's members a week earlier.

Michael J. Palladino    

The Chief-Leader/Adrienne Haywood-James

TAKING THE BRIDGE: Roger Toussaint is flanked by, from left, Transport Workers' Union Local 100 Recording Secretary Darlyne Lawson, United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Herbert Daughtry as he marches over the Brooklyn Bridge to begin his jail term April 17.

 

"There was a criminal act committed against the riders of this system," Mr. Kalikow said, referring to the December strike that shut down the city for three days prior to Christmas. He said that while the MTA was always open to further negotiations, it wanted the contract settled through binding arbitration.

Won't Swallow It

"They have no right to push that deal, in its exact form, down our throat," Mr. Kalikow retorted, when a board member suggested that calling a vote on the stalled contract would help build a "reservoir of trust" between management and labor.

Local 100 President Roger Toussaint, who at the time was serving a jail sentence for orchestrating the strike, told a Daily News reporter the MTA "should not underestimate how volatile they can make this situation become." He was released April 28, 3-1/2 days into his 10-day sentence, getting time off for good behavior and benefiting from a state requirement that prisoners whose sentences end on a weekend are released the preceding Friday.

The union leader went to jail insisting that the MTA had a "moral and legal obligation" to vote on the contract at its monthly meeting; the agency maintained that the deal was nullified when union members rejected it by a slim margin in January. In a second vote, tallied and announced April 18, union members overwhelmingly approved the deal. "They are taking clearly unreasonable positions. They are insisting on crushing tens of thousands of proud men and women who worked harder than any of them have ever worked in their lives, and they should understand that that can bear serious consequences," Mr. Toussaint told the Daily News the day after Mr. Kalikow made his remarks.

Union leaders denied reports that there were plans to engage in work slowdowns, however, and insisted that there were no plans to call a second strike.

Urged to 'Rebuild Trust'

Mr. Kalikow had said prior to the monthly board meeting that no vote or discussion of Local 100's contract was on the agenda, and he kept that resolution. He would have moved through the list of MTA procurements and other items without pause had not Anthony Bottalico, a non-voting board member who is general chairman of the Association of Commuter Rail Employees and represents workers in Metro-North, raised the issue.

    Michael J. Palladino

 

The Chief-Leader/Ginger Adams Otis

UNCOMMON GROUND: Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch, who found himself in the unusual position of sharing the stage with several activists who are longtime critics of the police, noted his father's participation in the two previous transit strikes and told those involved in last December's walkout, 'You are not criminals.'

"I know it's not on the agenda, but regarding the collective bargaining situation ... whatever the feelings may be about Local 100's leadership, this is about the employees, and the transit workers are good employees," Mr. Bottalico said. "As an effort to rebuild a reservoir of trust, we should take a vote."

He was supported by Mitchell Pally, a voting board member, who said he "always wanted [the board] to take a vote and if I thought I could get a second, I would bring a motion."

'Pleaded With Toussaint'

Mr. Kalikow immediately shot down the suggestion, however, with an emotional statement that included a description of his last-minute bargaining attempts with Mr. Toussaint hours before the Dec. 19 strike was called.

"I was in the room. I pleaded with Roger Toussaint not to leave," said Mr. Kalikow. "I begged him - I can't remember the last time I begged somebody to do something, but I did that night. I said, 'Roger, don't leave,' and Roger got up and walked out and sent his union out on an illegal strike."

The MTA chairman then chastised the union for ruining Christmas for "some of the poorest" in the city who didn't get paychecks, or struggled to make it to work even though there was scant business for much of the service industry during the walkout. Ed Watt, Secretary-Treasurer for Local 100 and a non-voting member of the MTA board, attempted several times to make a statement, at one point waving his hand to get Mr. Kalikow's attention, but was told to make his comments later when the board moved into executive session.

"I'm not allowed in the executive sessions," Mr. Watt pointed out.

He was allowed to speak before the board gathered privately, but limited himself to a brief comment: "Chairman Kalikow, as you know from several long hearings in court, we couldn't disagree more with your characterization of events leading up to the strike."

'Insulted Every Worker'

Later, speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mr. Watt said that Mr. Kalikow's remarks were "provocative and insulting to every transit worker. They have bargained in bad faith from the beginning, and they reaffirmed it today."

The union's argument that the MTA's last-minute negotiating tactics violated Public Employment Relations Board regulations that impose "special obligations" on entities dealing with public employees who are barred from striking was at the core of its legal battle to reduce its Taylor Law penalties.

Local 100 is appealing Brooklyn State Supreme Court Justice Theodore T. Jones's April 17 ruling that levied a $2.5 million fine against the union and suspended its automatic dues check off rights for at least 90 days. The union said its punishment should have been mitigated by the actions of the MTA that it claimed forced the strike.

Unions Turn Out

Judge Jones's ruling angered some other labor leaders who felt the city had in recent years adopted similar hard-line bargaining tactics, including a policy of delaying accords to starve unions that are barred from striking into accepting productivity-funded wage deals that barely keep pace with inflation.

Many of them joined Local 100 at an April 24 rally in support of Mr. Toussaint. The labor movement has also launched an all-out offensive in Albany to reform the Taylor Law. Their proposals include an automatic cost-of-living-increase for workers, and making the city pay interest on wage raises that are delayed by protracted bargaining. Uniformed Fire Officers' Association President Peter Gorman, who marched across the Brooklyn Bridge accompanied by several union vice presidents, noted in a later phone interview that it took him nearly three years to negotiate his newly-ratified deal.

Process 'Not Fair'

"I didn't go out on strike or conduct any job actions while settling my contract, but my members will get their first raise in the middle of May," he said. "And if the public knew that the last time my members got a raise was July 2001, before the Twin Towers came down, before 343 members of the Fire Department died, the public would say, 'What? That's not fair!' And they would be right - it's not fair."

United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who presided over the rally in front of Justice Jones's Brooklyn courthouse that preceded Mr. Toussaint's march to jail, told the assembled crowds that Taylor Law reform was urgently needed.

Joining her on the stage were union leaders from the UFOA, Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, Communication Workers of America 1180, the AFL-CIO, District Council 37, several private-sector union heads, and numerous elected officials, members of the clergy, and community leaders.

Lynch Raps Mayor

Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, gave an impassioned speech in support of Mr. Toussaint, and pledged to the crowds that the police officers surrounding the stage would keep them safe as they crossed the Brooklyn Bridge.

Standing on the stage with his father, who is a retired transit worker, Mr. Lynch blasted Mayor Bloomberg and the MTA for remarks made during the strike calling the union leadership "thuggish."

"My father participated in the 1966 strike. In 1980 he pulled his train into the station and walked off the job. He raised a family on his transit worker salary, and he is not a criminal!" Mr. Lynch shouted. "And you are not criminals." Mr. Gorman, whose father was also a transit worker, had similar resentments about the language used by the MTA and city officials who described transit workers as "selfish."

Both Sides Share Blame

"A lot of people missed the bigger story. Roger [Toussaint] violated the Taylor Law and he got fined for it. But the MTA made a non-negotiable demand about pensions that was against the law, and Kalikow knew it was against the law, because pension reform must come down from Albany," he said. "And nobody makes that point, but I'll make it, because I'm sick and tired of hearing transit workers who were forced into a strike described as thugs. My father was a transit worker and he went out on strike in 1966 and he was not a thug, and I'm tired of heavy-handed management kicking the transit workers."

Mr. Gorman and the leaders of other uniformed unions April 27 held a breakfast meeting with Council Members. The informal gathering was intended as a thank you to the Council for its work on labor issues, Mr. Gorman said.

He added that he was going to follow up on several topics raised at the meeting with the Council and also with other uniformed leaders.

"I would like to use this as a stepping stone to form a bargaining coalition," he said. "It is certainly my agenda to have a uniformed coali