December 17, 2002

'A Mere Pittance'

After union rally, dismay over deal

By Michael J. Woods, Mae M. Cheng and Dan Janison STAFF WRITERS

Transit workers invigorated by a solidarity march across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall were disappointed by the proposed contract agreement that would provide them with less than half the raise they originally demanded.

Thousands of demonstrators formed a procession along the bridge's pedestrian path to a rally outside City Hall after the sun set last night - and before the terms of the tentative deal reached by the TWU leadership were announced.

Some of the demonstrators, part of the 34,000-member Transport Workers Union Local 100, said the pact will be a hard sell.

"It's a mere pittance," said Dave Walter, 33, of Bensonhurst, a subway construction flagger since 1999. "I'm single. I couldn't afford to be married."

Union president Roger Toussaint told reporters he was confident union leaders would approve the contract. TWU members felt differently, especially the rank and file.

"The zero percent is going to be a rough sell," Peter Foley, 45, of the Bronx, said, referring to the first year of the contract.

Foley, who represents 2,200 employees in the signals and line equipment division, said he wanted to examine all the details before deciding on whether to support the contract. So far, Foley said, people in his division have been disappointed that demands for higher pay and more vacation carry-over days do not appear to have been met.

"I'm very much afraid that this is a signal to the employers of the city, to the rest of the working class of the city, that the way is backward, giving up gains of the past," said Eric Josephson, who is with the Maintenance of Way division.

Others offered a more practical take on the three-year contract agreement announced as the union rally concluded just after 7 p.m. The pact would give workers a $1,000 bonus in the first year in lieu of a raise and a 3 percent salary increase in each of the next two. The union had demanded an 8 percent raise in each of three years but dropped it to a 6 percent increase each year heading into around-the-clock weekend negotiations.

Union leaders were also able to garner non-monetary benefits such as a change in sick-leave rules and the establishment of a child care fund.

"We could always wish for more," said Greg Rowland, 63, of Flatbush, an ironworker and shop steward. "I'm glad we didn't go on strike. I'm glad we didn't inconvenience the citizens of New York."

"If the deal is done, it's done," Rowland said. "I'm glad we can put this aside and move on. Perhaps three years from now, the economy will be better and we can hope for a better contract."

Before the contract agreement was announced, the transit workers were joined by members of other unions from across the city in a show of solidarity.

Boxing promoter Don King also joined the representatives from the police, fire, teacher and taxi-driver unions to urge the transit workers on.

"It may be cold, but our hearts are on fire because we're fighting for what's right," said Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.