Thursday, December 29, 2005

Winners and Losers: The NY Times Analysis of The Transit Strike

The NY Times declared Roger Toussaint and the TWU victors in their strike battle with Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Pataki and the MTA in this article today:

He was excoriated on tabloid front pages and by the mayor and governor. As thousands streamed across the Brooklyn Bridge on a frigid night during last week's transit strike, someone in a car yelled out his name, prefacing it with a curse.

But now, a day after details of an agreement between the transit workers and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority were spelled out, Roger Toussaint, the union's president, seems to have emerged in a far better position than seemed likely just a few days ago.

Mr. Toussaint, whose back appeared to be against the wall last week, can boast of a tentative 37-month contract that meets most of his goals, including raises above the inflation rate and no concessions on pensions. Indeed, several fiscal and labor experts said yesterday that Mr. Toussaint and his union appeared to have bested the transit authority in their contract dispute.


But if there is a real winner in the walkout that hobbled the city at the height of the holiday season, it is the union members who went out on strike, and the man who led them.

"It's a good contract for the union in that it does keep in place, for the most part, benefits that are extremely favorable to them," said Steven Malanga, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research organization, who called last week for firing the strikers. "For them, you can say this is a great deal."

When Mr. Toussaint appeared before television cameras at 11 p.m. on Tuesday to announce the settlement, he commented little except to read an impressive list of new worker-friendly provisions: raises averaging 3.5 percent a year, the creation of paid maternity leave, a far better health plan for retirees, a much-improved disability plan, the adoption of Martin Luther King's Birthday as a paid holiday, and increased "assault pay" for bus drivers and train operators who are attacked by passengers.

Then Mr. Toussaint announced a big surprise: Some 22,000 workers will each receive thousands of dollars in reimbursements for what are considered excess pension contributions; for several years, these workers paid more toward their pensions than other workers. For those workers, that money will easily offset the fines of slightly more than $1,000 that most of them face for taking part in the illegal strike. The union itself could still face a $3 million fine that a judge ordered because of the 60-hour strike.

"The union did especially well, all things considered," said David L. Gregory, a labor relations expert at St. John's University. "Toussaint got everything he needed, and he also got what he needed in terms of the bigger picture. With the strike, he mollified the radical left in his union and helped placate the middle of his rank and file who were demanding to be treated with dignity and respect."

While the list of concessions Toussaint won from the MTA is indeed impressive, note this concession Toussaint gave to the MTA:

The authority did not come away empty-handed, however, as it obtained a major concession: For the first time, the 33,700 transit workers will pay a portion of their health insurance premiums.


By getting the union, Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, to agree to have subway and bus workers pay 1.5 percent of their wages toward health premiums, the authority took an important step to rein in soaring benefit costs. That provision is expected to save the authority $32 million a year. Not only that, the union agreed that its workers' contribution toward their health premiums might increase if the authority's health costs continued to climb.

Employee contributions will start out at 1.5%. Of course health costs will continue to climb, so I don't think it's out of line to say the MTA will want 5% employee contributions next, then 8%, then 10% and so on...

While the reimbursement of excess pension contributions is an imaginative stroke by Toussaint that will more than offset the strike fines for many of the TWU members and while Toussaint seems to have won many other concessions from the MTA that seemed impossible before the strike, I have to say that as a UFT member, I remain concerned about the health care concession Toussaint gave to the MTA. I am loathe to put forth this precedent that municipal union members will cover part of their own health care costs with the stipulation that employee contributions to health care costs will continue to rise as costs rise for the city and/or MTA.

Note this passage about what Bloomberg will likely do with the health care concession precedent set by the TWU:

One part of the settlement could prove a boon to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who, like the authority, is eager to rein in benefit costs.

"What happened on health care is an important precedent for the mayor in terms of the city's collective bargaining," said Charles M. Brecher, research director of the Citizens Budget Commission, a business-backed advocacy group. Noting that only a small fraction of city workers now pay a portion of their health premiums, Mr. Brecher said that if the city obtained an identical provision, with workers contributing 1.5 percent of wages, it would save around $300 million a year.

If you're a cop, fireman, teacher, or other city worker, expect to ante up for health care costs next time your contract comes around.

And if you're a member of the UFT, expect to pay more than 1.5% toward health care costs. Remember, Randi Weingarten is a lot dumber than Roger Toussaint and when it gets to contract negotiation, no one gets her clocked cleaned like Randi Weingarten.

As for pension issues, note this from the Times article:

Professor Gregory said the authority had achieved one of its - and the mayor's and governor's - main pension goals during the dispute. "The M.T.A., as a representative of public employers, has achieved an important objective: It has put the issue of soaring public-employee pension costs front and center in the public consciousness," Mr. Gregory said.

That, he said, might pave the way for the State Legislature to enact a pension law that reduces pensions for future government workers and cuts government pension outlays.

I cannot imagine, given the vast array of complaints about state pension costs from all levels of government, how the 25/55 pension tier that Randi Weingarten promised UFT members in the last UFT contract is ever going to come to pass. Given the economic realities of the future (or at least what the government claims is reality) you have to see the state raising the pension age and time needed rather than lowering both.

Overall, I have to admit that Toussaint did better with this contract than I first thought when news came down about it Tuesday night. Obviously the excess pension reimbursements and other deal sweeteners really change how the contract is viewed by most people, although I tell you that I remain very alarmed by the health care contribution concession that I believe will come to back to haunt municipal unions in the very near future.

Nonetheless, when considering winners and losers in the strike battle, I think this passage from the Times article says it all:

In the view of E. J. McMahon, director of the Manhattan Institute's Empire Center for New York State Policy, the transportation authority failed an important test when it agreed to the pension reimbursements. This, he said, negated the punitive aspects of the fine.

"If you want to calculate, 'Is it a win for the M.T.A.?' you'd want the union to be less inclined to strike in the future," he said. "You want this to do something that makes the union members think, 'I don't want to do this again.' You don't seem to do that when you offset the fine for such a large number of workers."

So maybe, just maybe, hardliners in the UFT can force Weingarten and the Unity hacks who were so conciliatory to the mayor to take an offensive tact in the next teachers contract negotiations with the city?

You're too optimistic about Unity, I'm afraid. I suggest you read James Eterno's article on the ICE blog, pointing out that Randi, while asking members to be ready to strike the moment the contract expires, is concurrently urging a revision to the Taylor Law that would place us in PERB arbitration 6 months after said expiration.

Perhaps Randi thinks we forgot exactly how PERB treated us.

I believe the title was something like "Which Randi do we believe?"
You're right, NYC Educator, I was too optimistic when I wrote that I hoped Unity would take a more offensive stance in contract negotiations now that the TWU got most of what it wanted by striking. I actually was trying to be ironic, because I actually can't imagine Unity or Randi will be more aggressive in their negotiations with the mayor, but it didn't come off that way. I think it's because I was writing around 4:00 AM this morning and I just ran out of steam.

BTW, I did see that piece by James Eterno on the ICE blog. When I read it, I couldn't figure out why Randi would want to stick the UFT into binding arbitration with PERB six months after the contract expired either. I ruminated about it for a while and then I finally figured it out - it's because Randi's one dumb labor leader!

Unfortunately we seem to be stuck with her. Where do we go from her to ensure that what happened in the past contract process doesn't happen in the next one?
Where do we go from here? Don't mourn, organize. Start with your own school and branch out. Join up with other opposition groups or form you own - see the recently formed UTP in Staten Island based at Port Richmond HS. It will take a massive organizational effort to challenge the Unity machine. The time to start is NOW!
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?