New York transit union board agrees to new contract

WASHINGTON – The board of the New York City transit workers union, whose three-day strike paralyzed the city before Christmas, approved a tentative new contract, union leader Roger Toussaint announced.

The board of the Transport Workers Union’s Local 100 «voted overwhemlingly to approve the proposed contract and to forward that contract to the 33,000 members of Local 100 for ratification,» Toussaint told a late night press conference.

The tentative deal came one week after the crippling strike, the city’s first in 25 years, forced seven million New York commuters to walk to work.

«I’d like to thank all the members of Local 100 for their unerring support and perseverence,» Toussaint said.

«We would also like to thank the riders and working people of New York for their patience, forbearance and understanding for the equally difficult time spent by this entire city for the last few weeks,» he added.

The transit strike, the city’s first in 25 years, ended on December 23 when workers voted to return to work while contract negotiations continued, sparing seven million commuters further disruptions during a busy pre-holiday week.

In the agreement for a 37-month contract — approved by a 37-4 vote by the union board — the city’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority gave up demands for concessions on pensions.

The union, however, agreed — for the first time — that workers would contribute 1.5 percent of their wages toward their health care premiums, Toussaint said.

The tentative deal, which will be submitted to TWU members for their vote by mail this week, does not remove the more than 1,000 dollar fine a federal judge levied against each TWU member for violating a state law banning strikes by public workers.

The settlement, according to Toussaint calls for a three percent pay raise in the first year of the new contract, four percent in the second year and 3.5 percent in the third year.

New York subway and bus workers’ yearly base pay currently averages 47,000 dollars. With overtime, their total yearly earnings average 55,000 dollars.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who took a hard line against the strikers last week — charging them with «thuggish» behavior at one point, congratulated both the TWU and MTA for their effort.

«This tentative contract provides the necessary cost-savings and productivity to keep the MTA solvent, mitigate fair increases and allow for vital investments in our transportation infrastructure,» Bloomberg was quoted as saying by The New York Times.

During the negotiations, the MTA forecast a one billion dollar deficit for 2009, partly due to spiralling benefit costs for its transit workers — from 2002-2005 pension costs more than tripled to 453 million and health care outlays rose nearly 50 percent to 380 million.

Toussaint, however, maintained that concessions by the union were unwarranted because the MTA had a one billion dollar surplus in 2005.