Tentative deal reached in NYC transit talks

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

NEW YORK -- Negotiators announced a tentative agreement Monday that would spare the nation's largest city a potentially devastating mass transit strike.

The deal, reached after four days of intensive talks, would ensure that New York subways and buses -- which provide an estimated 7 million rides a day -- remain on the move.

"It gives me pleasure to announce to the entire citizenry of New York that we have a proposed agreement," said Transit Workers Union president Roger Toussaint.

The three-year deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority would include a $1,000 lump-sum payment to workers in the first year, with 3 percent raises in each of the next two years, Toussaint said.

The deal would still need the approval of the union's 34,000 members. Toussaint said the executive board would recommend approval.

"We think today marks a turning point in the relationship between the MTA and its unions," authority Chairman Peter Kalikow said. "We have gone from confrontation to cooperation."

The lump-sum payoff allows Toussaint to deliver on his promise that the union would not accept any contract that denied them an annual raise. And it avoided the first citywide transit strike since 1980.

Throughout Monday afternoon, negotiators expressed optimism but stressed that the talks remained at a sensitive stage and that many details needed to be worked out. Nineteen hours after a 12:01 a.m. deadline, the deal was announced.

The settlement was reached as hundreds of union demonstrators marched from the headquarters of the NYC Transit Authority in Brooklyn across the Brooklyn Bridge to a rally at City Hall.

"We weren't the ones who pushed this to a citywide stage, to a national stage," union secretary-treasurer Ed Watt told the rally. "They started it. We'll finish it."

Token booth worker R.S. Ray expressed the ambivalence of many union workers about a possible walkout.

"Nobody would win in that situation," he said. "Including us."

Just minutes before their contract expired Monday, union leaders opted to keep members on the job after progress was made on non-economic issues. As talks continued Monday, wages were a key sticking point.

The union had sought raises of 6 percent for each of three years, while the MTA, facing a billion-dollar deficit and a proposed fare increase, had offered no raise the first year and linked subsequent raises to productivity increases.

The union threatened to strike despite a state law and an injunction that barred them from walking off the job. Workers could have been fined two days pay for each day on the picket line under the state's Taylor Law, which blocks public employees from striking.

The starting salary for transit workers is about $33,000 a year, while senior workers earn as much as $47,000.

While union members wondered what the future held, subway and bus riders were kept in suspense throughout the day, waiting for word if they would be able to get home during the evening rush hour.

"You have to stay tuned to the news hour to hour to see if you're going to be able to get to work, or get home. It's a huge hassle," said Michael Tuosto, 32, who works for Morgan Stanley, as he waited for a bus at the end of the work day.

If a strike had occurred, the financially strapped city stood to lose up to $350 million a day in police overtime costs, lost revenue and productivity.

The expiration of the union's three-year contract raised the possibility of a strike; union members authorized a walkout more than a week ago.

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