Saturday, December 31, 2005

News Media Decides TWU Took MTA, Pataki To The Cleaners

I know that when I first wrote about the tentative contract agreement between the TWU and the MTA, I thought that the transport workers union had been taken to the cleaners by the MTA for agreeing to have workers pay 1.5% of their salaries toward health care costs as part of the contract deal.

But the more details that emerge about the tentative contract agreement between the TWU and the MTA, the more I think TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint really took the MTA and Governor Bagman to the cleaners.

And the news media seems to think the same thing. Just take a look at today's news coverage over the pension refunds Toussaint won for TWU members in the contract. First, the NY Times:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has signed an agreement that guarantees to compensate transit workers more than $100 million if elected officials in Albany block a critical component of the contract settlement that the authority reached with the union this week, according to several representatives on the union's side.

The officials disclosed the existence of the agreement when they were asked to respond to Gov. George E. Pataki's threat to block the proposed contract provision, which calls for about 20,000 transit workers to receive thousands of dollars each in refunds for a portion of pension contributions they made between 1994 and 2001.

On Thursday, after many newspaper editorials and fiscal conservatives denounced the refunds as inexcusably generous to a union that had staged an illegal strike, Mr. Pataki's office warned that the governor was inclined to veto the legislation that would be required to refund the money.

Under the side agreement, the officials said, the substitute compensation could come in the form of cash bonuses, and would be paid out of either the transportation authority's operating budget or its surplus.

David Catalfamo, a spokesman for Mr. Pataki, said that no one in the governor's office had been told of - or had known of - the refund provision before the tentative settlement was announced on Tuesday. He also said yesterday that the office was unaware of any separate agreement that would provide the refunds if the Legislature or Mr. Pataki blocked them.

Gary J. Dellaverson, the authority's chief negotiator, declined yesterday to comment on whether there was a separate agreement outside the six-page memorandum of understanding that the two sides signed on Tuesday.

Asked about the pension refunds, he said: "It wasn't a last-minute highway robbery. We knew what it cost as part of the agreement. I was comfortable with the agreement and I am pleased with it."

The refunds have become a lightning rod for critics who assert that the provision, no matter what its real fiscal effect, gives the appearance of rewarding the union, Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, which staged a 60-hour strike last week in violation of the state's Taylor Law. "The governor was clear: The T.W.U. has broken the law and they will suffer the consequences," said a spokeswoman for Mr. Pataki, Joanna Rose.


As a one-time payment, the refunds would total about $132 million, the authority says. Union negotiators have put the figure as high was $200 million.

One union representative said the union's negotiators recognized that the agreed-upon pension refunds could run into trouble in Albany, so they asked for a separate agreement "as a backstop."

The three mediators who developed the framework that ended the strike - Richard A. Curreri, Martin F. Scheinman and Alan R. Viani - said they had been unaware of any side agreement.

Mr. Viani said he thought that even without a separate commitment by the transportation authority, by law it would probably have to compensate the transit workers if the pension refunds are blocked by the Legislature or the governor.

Now the Daily News editorial page:

Looked at in the very best light, Gov. Pataki exerted a singularly feckless lack of command over negotiations between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Transport Workers Union - and wound up getting snookered by his own man at the table, MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow.

The governor's aides said yesterday that Pataki was absolutely, unequivocally unaware that Kalikow had agreed to a pension giveaway that will enrich as many as 20,000 strikers with payments of up to $14,000 each - handsomely rewarding the lawlessness of Roger Toussaint's brigades. The aides said Kalikow never told Pataki he had reached a tentative contract by promising to give the TWU at least $110 million from the MTA treasury.

Such an admission is quite damning because it casts Pataki as an out-of-touch bumbler while portraying Kalikow as a con man caught trying to flimflam the governor and the public. Adding to a lousy sense of getting fleeced, Kalikow & Co. tried to hide the pension promise in a secret side deal, separate and apart from the contract.

What say you, Kalikow? Nothing. He and his partners in crime, MTA Executive Director Katherine Lapp and Labor Relations Director Gary Dellaverson, have gone to ground rather than take responsibility for their actions. They must emerge from their holes, because they've got a lot of explaining to do. It'll take courage, as the first question will be: Pataki says you kept him in the dark. True or false?

As for the governor, he needs to come clean, too. The contract provision in question obligates the MTA to use its best efforts to persuade the Legislature and Pataki to enact a law giving back money that union members paid to the city pension system from 1994 to 2000. They have no valid claim on the money and should not get it.

Pataki has twice vetoed measures that would have given the money to TWU members, telling the union to take up the issue in collective bargaining. Now that the union has done so, he says he may veto such a bill again. But weaseling with the word "may" doesn't cut it. The public and, for that matter, the TWU rank and file need to hear that he would kill the idea again.

Then there's Kalikow's secret agreement, which states the MTA will pay the money regardless of what Albany does. Is that so? Last we heard, the MTA board, thick with Pataki appointees, has the last word on ratifying the contract and, presumably, the side deal. So the governor is obliged to state whether he will instruct his representatives to vote against the pension maneuver. He should. He must.

If the MTA board vetoes the pension refund side deal between the MTA and the TWU, the tentative contract agreement deal will fall apart and the two sides will be at an impasse again. The city will again face a crippling transit strike, only this time the MTA, the governor, and the mayor will be portrayed as the bad guys for killing the tentative contract agreement.

So go ahead, MTA board members/Pataki associates - kill the contract deal. Let's see where that gets you in the court of public opinion. Or reality.

People aren't going to care why you killed the contract deal; they're only going to care that you brought the city back to the brink of another crippling transit strike.

And as for Pataki's hope to use his tough anti-union negotiation stance as a springboard for his 2008 presidential ambitions, not so much, eh? The Daily News and many other media outlets are portraying Pataki as a bumbler who got taken to the cleaners in the contract agreement while he was out giving "tough guy" interviews to CNN and NY1.

Oh, well, George. I guess you can always go back to your career as Al D'amato's bagman now that your political career is mercifully at an end.

And finally, as for me, I just want to say I was wrong about Roger Toussaint. While I remain concerned by the health care concessions he gave to the MTA because it is obvious that Mayor Moneybags (or whichever GOP lapdog succeeds him) will use it against the UFT in future contract negotiations, it is becoming increasingly clear as more details emerge about the contract agreement that Toussaint completely outmanuevered the MTA/Pataki/Bloomberg on nearly every other account. He managed to pull a three day strike, then get the state to pay the Taylor Law fines for his workers despite the governor's insistence there would be "no amnesty." And then he outmanuevered Pataki again by creating a side deal with the MTA that ensured the pension paybacks would happen whether Pataki vetoed them up in Albany or not.

Now that is union leadership.

UFT Preznit Randi Weingarten (or Le Gran Fromage, as she is becoming known in certain blogosphere circles) should take some notes from Toussaint for her future negotiations with the city.

But she won't, of course.

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