March 15, 2006

Union Chief Will Seek New Vote on Rejected Transit Contract

The president of the transit workers' union, Roger Toussaint, made a surprise announcement last night that he would seek to submit the union's rejected contract to a new vote by the city's 33,700 subway and bus drivers.

Mr. Toussaint called for a revote after the union made no progress yesterday in its efforts to reach a more generous agreement when officials from the union and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority met with state mediators.

Mr. Toussaint voiced confidence that members of his union, Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, would ratify the deal, which they rejected in January by seven votes.

"We believe that with the confusion and misinformation about the contract cleared up, Local 100 members will strongly vote the contract up," Mr. Toussaint said in a statement. "This was a good, strong contract then as it is now, and it deserves their support."

Mr. Toussaint said he would ask his union's executive board to vote this week to hold a new vote.

It remained unclear, however, whether the transportation authority's board would approve the deal if the union's members ratified it the second time around.

Gov. George E. Pataki has sharply criticized the deal, suggesting that a provision that would refund workers an estimated $131.7 million in pension contributions would improperly reward union members who had engaged in an illegal three-day strike.

Tom Kelly, the transportation authority's spokesman, voiced little enthusiasm about Mr. Toussaint's decision to seek a revote.

"What he does with his executive board is up to him," Mr. Kelly said. "As far as I am aware, the only proposals on the table at this time are before the Public Employment Relations Board."

The transportation authority has asked the Public Employment Relations Board to name a three-person arbitration panel to settle the dispute — a move opposed by the union.

In the event that the employment relations board orders arbitration, the transportation authority and the union have each sent the board a raft of proposals for any group of arbitrators to weigh. In its new set of proposals, the authority is demanding that new transit workers pay 6 percent of their wages toward their pensions, up from 2 percent for current workers.

Mr. Toussaint's advisers have suggested that one reason the union's members may approve the contract in a revote is that they fear that the arbitrators may decide on a less generous deal.

"It's rather unprecedented to submit a contract without changes," said Joshua Freeman, a labor historian at the City University Graduate Center. "When contracts have been resubmitted before, it's been with some changes in the contract provisions. Still, I think there's a good chance it will pass in a second vote because of the great uncertainty of the alternative."

The rejected 37-month deal called for raises averaging 3.5 percent in each of the next three years.

Mr. Toussaint's supporters argue that workers voted down the deal partly because some dissidents asserted incorrectly that the transit workers would have to pay 4.5 percent of their wages toward their health premiums. In a significant concession, Mr. Toussaint had agreed to a deal in which the union's members would pay 1.5 percent of their wages toward health premiums.

George Perlstein, a dissident executive board member, said he would probably vote against sending the deal back for a second vote.

"I was against ratification, and I'm still against ratification," he said. "This is just an underhanded avenue to handle things when negotiations would be more fruitful in terms of winning us a new contract that the members deserve."

One top adviser to Mr. Toussaint who was granted anonymity said the union president had decided to call for a revote after the transportation authority made clear that it would not agree to any revised deal that made the authority pay more than the rejected deal did.


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