As transit talks wound down to another midnight deadline tonight, Transport Workers Union president Roger Toussaint softened his wage demands this morning, but observers said that there’s still been little progress at the bargaining table with management negotiators.
Toussaint’s comments appeared geared to placing the union’s own demands regarding wages, reduced disciplinary sanctions, and what it calls “dignity and respect,” back before the public while putting the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on the defensive. Most attention has focused on the MTA’s call for reduced pension and health care benefits for new employees, demands the union has rejected.
“We are prepared to lower our wage demands even to below 6 percent, provided that the authority ensures that disciplinary actions against transit workers be substantially reduced,” said Toussaint. The union’s prior wage demand was 8 percent per year over a three-year contract. The MTA has offered a total of 9 percent.
Union officials have long accused the MTA of having an exceptionally harsh disciplinary system. Toussaint estimated that there are currently “in the neighborhood of 16,000 disciplinary actions against our 33,000 members.”
Toussaint also said his members should receive Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday. “The MTA is the only large agency that refuses to recognize” the day,” he said.
The transit union leader also took a shot at Governor Pataki who scolded the union over the weekend for considering a strike, suggesting that Pataki was trying to build a conservative image for his prospective presidential campaign.
“Governor Pataki should think carefully before he wags his finger at transit workers on television,” Toussaint said. “We transit workers are accustomed to being threatened by transit managers. But we do not appreciate being threatened on public television nonetheless, and in front of our children. Even if the governor needs this in order to appear to be tough to the nation for his own political ambitions, it is inappropriate. And to his remarks regarding, ‘Don’t do it,’ we have two words for the governor: ‘Respect us.'”
City labor leaders have called a 4 p.m. rally in support of the transit workers in front of Pataki’s offices at Third Avenue and East 39th Street.
Meanwhile, an initial strike by 750 workers on two private Queens bus lines began this morning, snarling the commute for some 50,000 riders. Unlike transit system employees, the Queens workers are not yet subject to sanctions under the state’s Taylor law that bars strikes by public employees.