Saturday, January 21, 2006

TWU Rank And File Vote Down Health Care Concessions

So why did the TWU rank and file vote the tentative contract agreement between the MTA and the TWU down?

Health care concessions.

From The NY Daily News:

After putting New Yorkers through a crippling three-day strike last month, city transit workers have dropped another bombshell - rejecting a tentative contract by a margin thinner than a MetroCard.

After more than 22,000 votes were finally counted yesterday, the three-year offer went down to defeat by seven votes, 11,234 to 11,227.


The rejected 37-month pact would have given the 33,700 TWU workers pay hikes totaling 10.5% and Martin Luther King Day as a new holiday. It would keep the retirement age at 55, and called for thousands of dollars in pension refunds for many workers.

But the deal also called for significant givebacks, including the first-ever worker contributions toward health-care insurance - a make-or-break issue for some who opposed the contract.

While that contribution was a modest 1.5% of workers earnings, many clearly felt the concession would have set a precedent where management would continue to take bigger and bigger bites out their paychecks.

"It's a moral victory for transit workers," said union official John Samuelsen, a former ally of Toussaint's who campaigned against the contract. "The notion that we should no longer have unpaid health care has been defeated."

The health-care contribution - coupled with the Taylor Law fines workers face for their strike - would have wiped out any wage gains in the first year, opponents noted.

They also pointed out that the pact would move the contract's expiration date from mid-December into mid-January, out of the holiday shopping season. That would weaken the bargaining power of a union that has walked off the job three times since the 1960s.

"We've all got families to feed and rent to pay," local vice president Marty Goodman said. "We're not selling house and home for a crummy contract like this one."

I am still a bit shocked by the outcome of the TWU vote.

While I knew there were some in the union who were pretty angry over the contract Toussaint agreed to with the MTA, I expected it to pass. I figured the pension refunds for thousands of workers would have sealed the deal on the contract. With the hard sell Toussaint and many in the union leadership were giving to the contract, I figured it would pass, albeit narrowly (say 55%-45%.)

I was wrong.

But I understand why the contract was voted down too.

I would have voted no on the contract also.

That health care concession where TWU members would have paid 1.5% of their earnings for health care was a huge giveback. Over time, the MTA would have insisted on increases in the employee health care contribution so that eventually workers would have been making a contribution as high as 10% for the medical benefits.

Let's face it, private companies are already charging employees as much for health care benefits. Why not the state?

I for one am glad they voted the contract down. It takes the health care concession off the table for now in future contract negotiations between over municipal unions and the city. If the TWU had agree to a 1.5% giveback on the health care, you can almost bet that the city would have demanded a 3% giveback on health care from the UFT and other municipal unions.

And knowing Randi Weingarten, she would have happily agreed to it.

Now at least Weingarten can say "The TWU didn't agree to the health care concession and we are not going to agree to it either."

So the rejection of the contract agreement between the TWU leadership and the MTA over the health care concessions is a victory for all municipal union workers for now. The TWU rank and file have been the only union membership to stand up to the fuckers in the city and state and say "No Givebacks!!!" This should give members of my union, the UFT, some pause the next time they get ready to ratify a shitty contract.

But is the rejection of the contract a good thing for TWU rank and file members in the long run? Will they get better deal out of the MTA than Toussaint managed to get for them?

It's hard to say. It sounds like the strike option is off the table for now and I can't imagine the MTA is going to offer any new sweetener to the package. I can see how all of the hullabaloo over the pension refunds may force Kalikow to strike that provision from the next contract agreement, which could leave some TWU members thousands of dollars worse off than they would have been had they ratified the contract.

But if you take the long view, the TWU rank and file have done all city and state union workers a favor by rejecting this contract. They have served notice to the city and the state that health care concessions are NOT going to be granted as part of future contracts and that is good thing for all of us in the unions.

Now I hope and pray that whoever takes the lead in the TWU negotiating team is able to finagle a better deal for the TWU rank and file than Toussaint got for them last month.

UPDATE: Now that I know the health care contributions were indexed to future rising costs and could have gone up at any time (as the NY Times reported here), I believe the rank and file absolutely HAD to vote the contract down. While they would have started paying 1.5% of their earnings, their contributions would have gone up every time the state claimed health care costs were rising - meaning TWU members would have been subject to virtual pay cuts at any time.

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