The New York City Transit Agreement: A Report with Quotations and Commentary

by Andy Pollack

The information in this report was compiled and posted on December 17, 2002.

The tentative transit contract approved on December 16 by the Executive Board of Local 10 of the Transit Workers Union (TWU) is clearly a sellout, and it will be used to further beat down city workers’ demands in upcoming contract struggles. The proposed contract provides no wage increase in the first year (only a pitiful lump-sum bonus), and only tiny increases pegged to productivity in the second and third years; supposedly there were changes made to management’s plantation-style discipline system, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

The decision to stop the clock instead of striking was a clear sign that Roger Toussaint, the new president of Local 10, and his supporters never wanted to strike, even though the membership was ready. The pictures of Toussaint hugging MTA head Kalikow after the agreement say it all. Hopefully the rank-and-file will vote down the proposed contract, but the momentum (and the Christmas season timing) will have been lost.

Below are articles and excerpts of articles to shed further light on all this (the stuff bracketed and in bold are my comments). For ongoing analysis of the struggle in Local 10, see the voice of those who stay true to New Directions’ original vision (click here).

Three Quotes from Newsday:

With several municipal labor contracts coming up for negotiation, the mayor [Michael Bloomberg] also was pointed in his praise for the transit union’s proposed productivity concessions. “I am pleased that the agreement apparently has productivity enhancements in it,” Bloomberg said as he left City Hall last night. “That is something we are just going to have to learn to live with in this day and age in the private sector and the public sector. The world is different than it was before.”

As they sized up the settlement informally last night, some transit workers voiced disappointment, saying the terms fell short of expectations.

“It’s not enough,” said Joseph Morciglio, 40, of East Harlem, a shop steward and subway conductor since 1998. “We wouldn’t have gotten to this point if the MTA had allowed their books to be open to show how much waste goes on. The union did OK, but they needed to go further. They needed to expose mismanagement by the MTA.”

‘A Mere Pittance’
After union rally, dismay over deal

By Michael J. Woods, Mae M. Cheng and Dan Janison
December 17, 2002

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.”

Toussaint’s Next Test: Ratification

By William Murphy
December 17, 2002

In his first major-league test, rookie transit union boss Roger Toussaint had an impressive outing—but the game isn’t over yet. If his 34,000 members of Transport Workers Union Local 100 approve the tentative contract reached with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, he’ll have his first big win.

“Roger Toussaint has not been tested yet on his democratic credentials, and we will have to see how he handles the ratification process,” said Carl Biers, director of the independent Association for Union Democracy. “There will be a test of how clearly he states the contents and meaning of this contract to the membership and whether he lets opposing voices be heard.”

It remains to be seen whether the rank and file of the militant union will be willing to settle for that relatively modest package, given that one-time payments are usually taxed at the maximum rate, which would result in a one-time payment of about $570 in take-home pay, on average.

Reminded last night of his lofty 8 percent demand, Toussaint eased away from earlier rhetoric. “I don’t think we need any more inflammation of the situation,” said Toussaint, who had only a few days ago said that Mayor Michael Bloomberg was impeding negotiations and should “shut up.”

Toussaint even turned to MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow, gave him a hug and made cheek-to-cheek contact at the news conference announcing their agreement. Kalikow, in turn, used the union buzz word “dignity” in talking about the settlement, an apparent reference to complaints from workers that they are harshly treated when accused of work-rule infractions.

The ratification process can be a minefield for a transit union leader who pushes his deal too hard. Union president Damaso Seda was forced from office in 1995 after he was accused of not fully informing membership about terms of a tentative contract. Last night, Toussaint downplayed the importance of the proposed contract on his leadership role, saying he had concluded other deals with other employers.

He did not mention that one of those deals was after a bitter strike against private bus lines, most of them in Queens, that prompted a failed effort by those workers to break away from Local 100.

Kalikow suggested that the peaceful MTA settlement, tentative as it is, marked a “turning point” that will lead to better labor relations. Toussaint, trying to keep his combative members happy, did not go that far. “I think we have planted our feet on the highway of change,” he said.

From Rank & File, Straight to the Top

Jimmy Breslin
December 17, 2002

He is out of the Ebbets Field houses on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn and he worked nights as a track walker in the subway. “When was the last night you worked on the tracks?” he was asked last night. “July 30, 1998.”

His name is Roger Toussaint and now, as he is walking down a hotel hallway, he is the big new labor leader in a city that needs one so desperately. He turns around and cameras are almost hitting him in the head. He tells the plainclothes detectives, “Form a wall. Then don’t let anyone past. Form a wall.” He is through giving those directions and now he goes into an elevator with Ed Watt, his chief assistant during the negotiations, and they went up to rooms where firefighter union members were waiting, and they clapped when he came in and Jerry Cassidy, the union head, hugged Toussaint. Then Toussaint turned to a young woman, a secretary, and asked her about some papers that had to be delivered to the union headquarters on the West Side in time for a meeting in an hour or so. “I can take some little mistakes now, but we can’t have it that way afterwards,” he said.

Somebody handed him a cell phone and he listened to it and then smiled. “We are doing good on local television!” People laughed. It is at least incongruous for Toussaint to be talking about television appearances. He is a track walker who had on a dark suit and an unbuttoned shirt and he sat through long negotiations, thinking at times that the other side wanted to force him into a strike that would wreck the union and turn it over to the whites, to an international leader named Sonny Hall.

[I wonder if this is the excuse he’s using to the members about why there was no strike – AP]

“Mayor Bloomberg had his prints all over this,” Toussaint was saying. “He wanted to have zero, zero and zero.”

“He forced the police to go to state arbitration and they got way less than they would’ve with bargaining,” somebody said.

“He wants all the unions to do that,” another said.

“They were his fingerprints,” Toussaint said.

“Was there any time that you thought it was lost and you’d wind up out on the street?” he was asked. “After we stopped the clock. Nothing happened. We sat there and nothing happened. Then we were told that there would be zero for the money. I don’t know what time it was. But I was on pins and needles.”

It was at this point that Toussaint and the governor’s negotiator, Peter Kalikow, talked alone in a room.

[And just what did they say to each other? Instead of sitting there waiting and wondering, Toussaint should have gotten up and led his members out, as they had voted unanimously to do at their mass meeting – AP]

This was the moment when a weak labor leader, with nobody listening, can quit on his chair. Last night, Toussaint might have been dealing with a Kalikow, who had been reading scripts for all the other hours, but at this hour it was obvious that the script called on him to sit there as a symbol of the full strength of the political government of the state and city, of politicians who neither liked nor trusted Toussaint.

Who is this man anyway, with his straight face and his goatee and his Trinidad accent? Where does he get off to bring around labor politics that begins with him calling his union group “dissidents?” Who is he to tell the mayor to “Shut up” in public? Who does this track walker think he is?

He is Roger Toussaint and he is new and he is here for a long time because he sat in that room, and ask Peter Kalikow what he told him, and told him for all the people behind him to hear and understand that Roger Toussaint does not quit. After that, Toussaint and his people had trouble swallowing the thousand-dollar payment instead of a raise. It still sounds like zero, they were saying.

“But there was a benefit package of $400 million, with retirees getting medical coverage,” he was saying. “I could not risk losing that. There are massive changes in the discipline rules. We had to take the payment. The rest of the contract is so valuable to us.”

It was somewhere during the long day, in the cold dusk at City Hall, that Denis Hughes, the head of the state AFL-CIO, was saying, “You figure that two years ago, this guy was a track walker. Tonight he has pulled off a most extraordinary labor negotiation. It proves how you should do business. When you want a labor leader, you go to the rank and file. All that talent is there. Look what they got here.”

Quotation from New York Times

December 17, 2002
Transit Strikes Spread in Italy and Germany

Dec. 16 — Nearly 120,000 workers [in Italy] seeking a wage increase staged a 24-hour strike today that halted trains, buses and streetcars around the country, joining a string of job actions that have made the holiday season the season of strikes.

Germany’s streetcar and subway drivers also went on strike today, refusing to work until the government considered granting a 3 percent wage increase.

Raucous demonstrations added to commuter chaos. About 35,000 Italian workers gathered today in Rome to wave red flags and chant union slogans. German workers marched around Berlin and Munich in lederhosen, banging cowbells.

“These strikes unfortunately have negative effects on shoppers,” said Alberto Cassandra, a spokesman for the transit wing of CGIL, Italy’s largest union. He said he was sympathetic to their complaints, but explained that they should not feel singled out. “We’ve had many strikes this year,” he said.

German federal and state leaders say they cannot afford the 3 percent raise that the unions are demanding for nearly three million workers, who include transit employees.