New York Daily News

December 16, 2005

Labor bigs say TWU's fight for 'every worker'

BY ADAM LISBERG and BILL HUTCHINSON
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

The city's biggest labor leaders stood in solidarity last night with the head of the Transport Workers Union, characterizing its labor battle with the MTA as "a fight for every worker in New York."

The labor press conference, held an hour before the TWU's contract was to expire at midnight, was more than just a show of force: The leaders said that if striking transit workers were hit with fines under the Taylor Law, their union brethren could help shoulder the burden.

The labor leaders, introduced one at a time by TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint, contended that Metropolitan Transportation Authority negotiators were not bargaining in good faith.

"The one thing that's concerning us very much is the lack of movement on the side of the MTA to come to the table with a realistic offer," said Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch, whose father was a subway motorman.

"What's also troubling is the constant talk of trying to criminalize the effort for workers in this city to try to get to a contract that can put food on their table," he said of the MTA's citing the Taylor Law, which makes it illegal for transit workers to strike.

Lynch implored MTA officials to cut their rhetoric and threats and get serious about negotiating a contract.

Local 1199 health care leader Dennis Rivera said the TWU's battle was "a glorious fight."

"It's not only a fight for the transit workers," he said. "It's a fight for every worker in New York, union and nonunion."

Brian McLaughlin, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, a group of 375 local unions, said the council approved a "solidarity fund" to help transit workers cope with any fines they are hit with for striking. He urged all unionized employees in the city to pitch in to create a $1.5 million fund.

"We stand with the Transport Workers Union," McLaughlin said.

United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called the negotiations "a fight for fairness."

"When management says let's erode health benefits, we know we have to fight it," Weingarten said. "That's the fight here."

But an angry MTA chief negotiator Gary Dellaverson said the labor leaders' statements were full of misinformation.

"The MTA's position has been clear from the beginning that there are no cuts in health benefits on the table," Dellaverson said shortly after Toussaint wrapped up his late-night press conference.

"The fact is that it is important that people understand the issues in debate and the issues not in debate," Dellaverson said. "To begin to recharacterize these negotiations as some broad-based attack on the labor movement or on working people in this city is simply wrong and it doesn't help us reach an agreement."

But McLaughlin insisted that the MTA has not been truthful with its workers in the past.

"They've been told during times of deficit, 'We don't have the money to treat you fairly,'" McLaughlin said. "Right now there's no offer that resembles fairness during a time of great surplus."