The Talking Dog

December 23, 2005, Strike Over

After a third day without subways or buses, amidst the threat of incarceration of its leader, Roger "Rosa Parks" Toussaint, the Transit Workers Union agreed to return to work and continue to negotiate a contract, ending the three day walk out.

Timed as it was to hurt the City, during Christmas week, and implemented out of panic probably because union officials feared the most militant factions of their own union rather than because of the perceived need for barganing advantage, this strike will go down as one of the great pointless endeavors in labor-management history, though each worker is out 6 days pay, the union is out $3 million in fines, and the City lost around a billion dollars in business.

Management (few people seem to realize that our Metropolitan Transportation Agency is actually a creature of the State-- rather than the City-- government) also mishandled this... it appears that 16,000 pending disciplinary actions against a 36,000 member union is... excessive, perhaps? Retirement at 55 takes on a different perspective if large numbers of union members die in their 60's from work-place contracted conditions... And frankly, a decision to try to protect one's working terms and conditions is not "thuggish" (though, frankly, the choice to do this over Christmas week in a city with so many businesses dependent on holiday sales, was). (Question: why couldn't this union make the case for its actual grievances? The lack of public sympathy for the strikers was palpable, and frankly, it was staggering.)

So... faced with crippling fines and jail terms, the union seized on an initiative by state mediators, and decided to stanch the bleeding and return to work-- having gained exactly nothing from striking-- also out of panic.

And there you are. A local radio station said it best: nothing says the holidays like an MTA strike.


Oh, but, again, I suspect we need to agree to disagree on this, since it seems to me that not mentioning a major non-negotiable factor until half an hour before the strike deadline suggests that management is more concerned with having a legal means to cripple a troublesome union than that they give a shit about the $480-million-less-than -the-MTAwas willling to lose on the stadium deal (not to mention the money they hid from the riders when they asked for the last fare increase) that they would have saved if the union had caved (as, I'm sure, they made it a condition because they believed that the union wouldn't)

Bloomberg needed the DC 37 endorsement. DC 37, oddly, didn't face this kind of shit.

This isn't about money, it's about politics. I have to say that if I were unionized, I wouldn't mind a bit being representeed by Toussaint.

Posted by julia at December 23, 2005 2:47 AM

You keep mentioning Bloomberg as if he had anything to do with the negotiations; he did not. MTA is a state agency; this is Gov. Pataki's baby (though I'm sure as usual he's delighted that the NYC mayor is out front on it, taking heat off of him.)

Negotiating 101, which Mr. Toussaint either flunked out of or failed to attend, provides that in all negotiations, 98-99% of the movement will be in the last 1-2% of the time, and one must EXPECT the last minute zinger, and try to ANTICIPATE the response to it.

This is not a schoolyard: this is a $15-20 billion annual payroll. It's not about "respect": AND it's not really about politics (other than internal union politics) and it IS really about money. The union screwed up big time by trying to play off the harsh discipline (16,000 pending charges) against money; it made its demands on both seem petty and trivial, while not scoring points it should have.

The Times valued the pension give-back (notice that I use that term, but Toussaint, et al.did not) at around $20 million over three years... barely a rounding error on a $50 plus billion total package.

A better prepared negotiator would have known that valuation, and said "Why do you want to blow this deal over a rounding error?"

The union was itching to strike. That in no sense excuses the management side, that should have factored that in. Worse, the MTA flaunting its billion dollar surplus with the holiday fare giveaway and announcing its annual budget just days before negotiating for the largest component of that budget and its accounting gimmicks and its own financial abuses are all inexcusable in their own right.

Which is what makes the strike more inexcusable: this union was in a position to make the MTA the bad guy here, but by their timing and rhetoric f'ed all that up; public support is a key element of a strike like this, and the union was more concerned with satisfying its internal constituencies.

Too bad, because this will end up being all our loss, as ultimately, another citadel of strong worker voices and solid benefits will be chipped away. It didn't have to be this way.

Posted by the talking dog at December 23, 2005 8:56 AM

Ooops... I'm guessing I'm a factor of about 10 too high... it's probably more like a one and a half to two billion dollar payroll; that said, the savings from the proposed give-backs was still less than 1% of the package, and still a rounding error.

This one's "a pox on both your houses" situation; neither the MTA nor the union looks like they were on the side of the angels. AND the union just effectively took a further strike off the table (I have heard some union members justifiably upset that their leadership just gave up a huge bargaining advantage by doing it; fear of jail will do that.)

Well, hopefully a deal will be reached soon.

As an aside, note that in Europe, labor issues tend not to be about basic benefits, as health care and pensions are largely covered by the state.

It was the labor union movement that got us past child labor, improved working conditions, got us minimum wage and maximum hour laws... what's old may be new again, as it may be labor unions that have to fight for the benefits we do have.

It just pisses me off, I guess, when I see one doing what I see as a half-assed job (or worse) in their negotiating for their own members. Workers' rights (wages, hours, benefits, conditions, etc.) have been under attack for years, and its just going to continue.

Posted by the talking dog at December 23, 2005 9:41 AM

"The lack of public sympathy for the strikers was palpable, and frankly, it was staggering."

The support ran 52% in favor of the strikers, 40% against and 8% unsure. Strange notion of 'staggering' you have there.

Posted by catchy at December 24, 2005 2:34 AM

This Marist poll:

puts the question "Do you agree with the decision to strike" at 55% against to 37% in favor among NYC residents. Overwhelming?

Don't know; I just know this union could have-- and should have-- played this to get more public support than it did.

Posted by the talking dog at December 24, 2005 9:19 AM