By the itsy-bitsy margin of seven votes out of 22,000 cast, the city’s transit workers have narrowly rejected the proposed contract that they went on strike last month to win. Friday was the deadline for union members to turn in their ballots.
The move means Transit Workers Union Local 100 president Roger Toussaint must head back to the bargaining table to get a deal his membership will accept. Such a deal would most likely have to include some change on health care; the proposed contract irked many members because it would force them to pay for medical benefits. Members might also want more assurances on pension paybacks in the deal, to which the MTA agreed but which Governor Pataki has said he opposed funding.
A second strike, while not impossible, is not likely. TWU members still face the threat of large fines for walking off the job in violation of the state Taylor Law, which bars strikes by public employees. And from the moment the strike ended on December 22, some TWU members have wondered if their 60 hours on the picket lines were worth it.
Toussaint, who faces a tough fight for re-election later this year, has been squeezed by competing factions within the TWU since he called for a strike in the wee hours of December 20. The TWU international opposed the decision to walk. Radical elements of the local opposed the decision to come back. Some members opposed both.
Until a second deal is reached and approved—and maybe until Toussaint faces his members for re-election—it will remain an open question of whether the 2005 transit strike was a victory or defeat for the TWU and organized labor in general.