After President Toussaint suddenly called off our strike and sent us back to work while secret negotiations continued, most transit workers were bracing themselves for the worst. Many are still angry about the result.
The first news about the contract seemed to bring a little relief. The wage deal leaves us behind inflation, after we’ve paid the Taylor Law fines and 1.5% of our wages to the new health care premium. But there are some small gains, and a potentially big one in the 25/55 pension refund agreement.
However the truth is that there are disastrous givebacks in the contract, and Toussaint & Co. are covering them up. The cost of these givebacks in dollar figures, not to mention future bargaining power, will hugely outweigh the contract’s gains.
The hardest hit on our wallets will be the new health care premium. We are told it is 1.5% of our wages, but as we will explain, the real figure is going to be higher. Based on the precedent set by our contract, all municipal workers will be set to get stuck with it. The proposed contract contains many other horrible givebacks as well.
The ranks of Local 100 organized a powerful and heroic strike with little help from our leaders. After years of relentless racist and anti-working class attacks, someone finally stood up to the bosses and politicians. We have a lot to be proud of. But our fight is not over. Our leaders have betrayed us. To defend our wages and benefits, as well as the rest of the working class, Local 100 members are going to have to vote down this rotten contract. We will have to return to battle with a new strategy for victory.
Toussaint is boasting that he “saved” the pension benefits of current workers and future Local 100 members whom he calls “the unborn.” This is what politicians call “spin.”
First, the MTA’s last pre-strike offer to keep retirement ages the same but raise worker payments would have saved the MTA less than $20 million over three years.1 Under Toussaint’s proposed contract, they’ll get nearly $32 million2 out of our pockets from the new health care premium in the first year alone, and increasing amounts every year after that!
Further, what Toussaint and the media are not telling us is that the NYCTA/Local 100 contractual Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) states that “the 1.5% contribution shall be increased by the extent to which the rate of increase in the cost of health benefits exceed general wage increases.” 3
Now let’s get clear on what this will mean. According to the MTA’s Preliminary Budget, health care costs increased 12.9% this year and they plan on the understated figure of 9.3% increases in the next three years. 4 Processed through the deliberately confusing lawyers’ formula in the contract, that will mean that the premium will quickly rise to at least 2% and will continue to rise after that. And now the TA can prepare to demand new increases in future contracts.
Toussaint’s agreement to give back even more from wages for health care than the TA wanted to gain from pensions isn’t saving pensions. It is allowing the MTA to use threats against our pensions to strong-arm us into other concessions.
Further, the MTA was clear in its strike-ending deal with Toussaint that it was not taking pensions “off the table.” 5 The politicians are free to re-introduce their demands through the state legislature in the future – when it will be more difficult for us to strike to defeat the attack.
If we accept this massive giveback, it will be a huge defeat for all workers. The bosses and politicians have been losing momentum in their offensive against health care and pension benefits. President Bush started moves toward privatizing parts of Social Security but was forced to abandon his plans. California Governor Schwarzenegger recently put attacks on workers’ benefits on a ballot initiative and was soundly defeated. Toussaint’s contract is a gift to the ruling class just when workers were starting to push back these attacks.
In fact, the passage of this contract will be a green light to such attacks on other workers. The new health care premium is something that most city and state workers have never had to pay. If we accept it, City and State politicians will now rush to impose this back-door pay cut on all public workers, beginning with District Council 37’s 100,000+ members who are still working without a contract.
Local 100 members must vote down this sellout contract – not just to defend our own wages and benefits, but to defend the rest of the working class as well!
The wage deal of 3%, 4% and 3.5% raises for the three years of the contract will put us way behind inflation. Once the new health care premium is factored in, the real wage raise figures average 2.7% a year over the three years. Adjusted for a conservative estimate of inflation at 3.5% per year, that will mean our real wage will be cut by at least 3% by the end of the contract.
Then there are the Taylor Law fines to pay. As RTW has pointed out, under Mike Quill’s leadership Local 100 demanded and won amnesty from similar penalties in its victorious illegal strike of 1966. Our slogan “Amnesty From Taylor Law Penalties – We Won’t Go Back to Work Without It” was becoming increasingly popular on picket lines. Then Toussaint sent us back – and he didn’t even demand amnesty! Toussaint will bluster that he called off the strike to save us from more fines. Transit workers shouldn’t fall for such crap.
Also, Mayor Bloomberg says he’s “very happy”: Toussaint’s contract gives up the leverage we’ve had with our December contract expiration date. The capitalists have been terrified of our power to strike during the peak of the holiday shopping season and inflict billions of damages on them. It’s been one of our greatest potential weapons in defending ourselves against the bosses’ attacks – and if we accept this contract we’ll lose it.
The big surprise in the contract is the agreement that “The MTA ... will support legislation to ... refund ... the additional member contributions, with interest, made to the New York City Employees Retirement System [NYCERS] by participants of the Transit Operating 25Year/Age 55 Retirement Program...” 6 In other words, members who made pension contributions above the current 2% between 1995 and 2000 will have the difference refunded – around $10,000 for those eligible.
But that money was rightly ours to begin with – it was stolen by the State and courts. We could have easily won it by staying out on strike. Now we’ve only got a promise by the MTA to sponsor State legislation to make it happen – there are no guarantees. Plus it is being used as a bribe to trick workers into passing a contract that will hurt them and all workers much worse. For the MTA this is a great deal – they get to trade support for this refund (which costs them nothing since it comes from NYCERS) in return for almost unlimited potential health care savings out of all our pockets.
Importantly, less than half of Local 100 members are eligible for this refund. Used as a trade-off for the new health care premium, it will therefore be a slap in the face to Local 100 members hired after the 1999-2002 contract. They will get no refund but will have to pay the new health care premiums.
We went on strike to hold the line on wages and benefits for ourselves and the rest of the working class. We did not go on strike to sacrifice wages and benefits for a Transit Authority with a billion dollar surplus. Nor did we go on strike in order to encourage the bosses and politicians to attack the rest of the working class. Indeed Toussaint’s agreements to sacrifice for the TA are particularly criminal considering the TA’s surplus and his failure to make demands on Pataki and the State to increase funding to transit. If we accept givebacks now, imagine how difficult it will be to fight demands for more sacrifices when the TA and government confronts us with debts in the future.
If we don’t vote this contract down, it will be a massive defeat. It will encourage management to attack us much harder in the future and give a green light to anti-worker and racist attacks everywhere.
For workers committed to fighting Toussaint’s sellout, the next step is to start the struggle against his contract. Steps are already under way to form a committee that will unite workers of various political beliefs around a common program of action to reject Toussaint’s contract. There will be literature to produce and distribute publicizing the facts of the deal and exposing whatever propaganda Toussaint & Co. come up with to defend it. There will be meetings to organize and discussions to lead. Contact RTW for more information.
A decisive rejection of Toussaint’s contract will be a stunning vote of no confidence in his leadership. It will open a discussion throughout the Local as to what sort of leadership and strategy we need to win. And it will signal the possibility of re-starting the fight with a plan for action that can rally the entire New York working class.
Common sense tells us that bad contracts are always disguised to look good. This contract is no exception. RTW No. 29 warned that:
There will be some small gains in the contract ... But management will have only given us small gains to help Toussaint sell the contract to the membership. Givebacks will greatly outweigh gains – and that is the main point ...
Now the New York Times explains that fear of “widespread rank-and-file opposition” to the sellout of our strike brought management together with Toussaint in the days before the final settlement in order to find small gains to include to help him sell the contract:
several officials close to the talks said negotiators from the union and the authority were discussing ways to sweeten the deal because of fears of widespread rank-and-file opposition. If the members vote down the settlement, it will put Mr. Toussaint and the transportation authority in a difficult position. (December 28, our emphasis)
In other words, don’t thank Toussaint for the small gains in the contract – growing rank-and-file opposition to his sellout won them. And don’t be fooled – the “sweeteners” are designed to get us to swallow a poisoned contract. Management is now working to help Toussaint stick us with this contract because they know they get a whole lot more from it than we do – and they fear us rejecting it.
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1. New York Times, Dec. 21, 22 and 25, 2005. [return to text]
2. New York Times, Dec. 28, 2005. [return to text]
3. MoU, § 4, p. 2, ¶ 4. [return to text]
4. http://www.mta.nyc.ny.us/mta/budget/pdf/2-all.pdf. [return to text]
5. New York Times, Dec. 22. [return to text]
6. MoU, §3, p. 2. [return to text]