Transport Workers Union officials voted to strike this morning – but limited their initial walkout to two private bus lines which serve southeast Queens — and even that work stoppage isn’t slated to begin until this evening.
The decision to shut down the bus lines first represents a delicate tap dance on the part of union officials. The Jamaica and Triboro lines are not due to come under the umbrella of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority until early next year, hence workers there, who have been without a contract for three years, do not face the crippling state Taylor Laws and accompanying heavy fines.
A somber TWU Local 100 president Roger Toussaint held a 7:15 A.M. press conference at union headquarters on the West Side where he announced that his executive board had voted for the partial walk out. He said the bus lines work stoppage would be the first in “a series of strikes” that would later “extend to the rest of the MTA.”
A union spokesman said that wider strike would stay on hold until Monday night and Toussaint left open the door for further talks with the agency.
“We are prepared to bargain and to work. But the MTA cannot continue to negotiate through threats. They can come to the table and bargain in good faith,” he said.
Toussaint blamed MTA chairman Peter Kalikow for belatedly joining the talks at, literally, the 11th hour.
“Chairman Kalikow came to the table just one hour before the deadline. One hour for 34,000 workers,” Toussaint said.
MTA spokesmen said that agency bargainers had offered a nine percent wage increase over a three-year contract, up from their prior offer of six percent over two years.
Toussaint said that the MTA was still demanding that new employees pay for some of their health benefits, and accept a hike in the retirement age.
“They would put a lock and key on their access to the middle class,” said Toussaint.