Union Leaders Taking Steps To Stop Transit Strike - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

12/22/05-New York City

Union Leaders Taking Steps To Stop Transit Strike

A mediator in the New York transit strike said Thursday that union leaders have agreed to "take steps" to have more than 30,000 striking employees return to work while negotiations continue.

The agreement must be approved by the union's executive board, said Richard Curreri, director of conciliation service of the Public Relations Employment Board.

Approval is expected by the end of the day, he said.

Transit Workers Union Local 100 President Roger Toussaint is expected to present the recommendation to his executive board when it meets at 1 p.m. Thursday.

If the executive board accepts the recommendation, the union would get back to work, but the timetable for getting public transportation back online was unclear.

The transit workers went on strike early Tuesday, shutting down the nation's largest public transportation system and creating hardships for more than 7 million commuters. The transit strike is the first in the city since 1980.

Union members are seeking raises, improved health plans and a stronger pension fund, which faces a $1 billion shortfall, according to its leaders.

Toussaint said Wednesday that he wants the issue of pensions taken off the table.

"That would go a long way to us resuming the negotiations," Toussaint told reporters. "We believe that the pension demands put forth by the MTA are illegal and burden the negotiations."

In response, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Peter Kalikow said in a written statement Wednesday night: "The MTA has remained in the hotel since the strike commenced, ready to negotiate. ...

"While Mr. Toussaint has little respect for the letter or spirit of the laws of this state, I strongly urge him to reconsider his position. Quite simply, he should follow the law and pursue his demands either at the bargaining table or in arbitration, not in the streets."

Under a transit authority proposal, new employees would contribute 6 percent of their salaries to their pension funds, instead of the current 2 percent. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority withdrew a proposal to increase the retirement age from 55 to 62.

On Tuesday, the Public Employment Relations Board, acting as a mediator, had denied a union request to remove the pension issue, said a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The strike violates New York's Taylor Law, which forbids public employees to walk off the job, but Toussaint argued, "We have pointed out that there is a higher calling than the law, and that's justice and equality."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg accused the union of "claiming to be the champions of working families," while the "illegal actions they are taking are costing New Yorkers their livelihoods."

One issue leading to the strike was a Metropolitan Transportation Authority-proposed contract calling for new employees to pay more for their health coverage than current employees.

Negotiators reported some progress on wage negotiations before talks collapsed early Tuesday. An authority offer Monday night, rejected by the union, included a three-year contract with wage increases of up to 4 percent a year.

Patience wearing thin

The strike has forced millions of people to adopt creative ways of getting around -- or simply abandon plans altogether.

Wednesday's cover of the New York Post captured a popular sentiment: "You Rats."

Thursday before dawn, one commuter told CNN he was ready for the strike to end.

"I'm tired already, and I'm going to work," the man said as he sat in a car stuck in traffic headed toward the Brooklyn Bridge.

Cabdrivers also have complained that despite the higher fares they can charge, they spend much of their time stuck in traffic jams throughout the city.

The mayor has said that the economic consequences of the strike, which coincides with the height of holiday shopping and tourist season, range "from severe to devastating, depending on the business."

The city looked to lose another $300 million in revenues Thursday, bringing the total loss for the strike to $1 billion, according to Jeff Simmons, spokesman for city Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr.

Retail industry watchers said that New York merchants should look to the Internet to prevent some lost sales.

Craig Johnson, president of retail consulting group Customer Growth Partners, had a blunt assessment.

"If you're [a] smart [retailer], you will simply redirect your customers to a channel or location that's more convenient than schlepping into Manhattan, instead of losing the sale outright," Johnson said.

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