Union Calls MTA Budget Vote An 'Insult'

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Another round of negotiations is scheduled for this afternoon between the MTA and transit workers. Union members are threatening to walk off the job if they don't get a new contract by tomorrow night.

In the meantime it's back to court as the city tries to head off the strike.

Eyewitness News reporter Dave Evans is live in Midtown.

Last week union leaders said there was a 50/50 chance of a strike on Friday morning, and that does not seem to have changed today. The question from union leaders is: if there's an improving budget picture at city hall thanks to a booming real estate market, then why isn't the same thing happening at the MTA?

After last night's rally the union is in a fighting mood and right as the MTA was poised this morning to begin spending its billion dollar surplus, union leader accuse the transit agency of hiding extra tax money, and they begged for a delay in today's budget vote.

Roger Touissant, TWU President: "What's the rush? They should delay this vote until this report can be confirmed by the controllers, both by the city and state controllers and we call on them to delay that vote. There's not need to rush ahead when there's over $400 million available."

But this morning the MTA board went ahead, spending much of its surplus on security and cleaning improvements, pension debt and that holiday discount fare.

Barry Feinstein, MTA Board Member: "There are no minuses in this budget from our perspective and the use of the surplus money is, I think, on balance one that everybody could live with and obviously the vote was almost unanimous or was unanimous."

The timing of today's budget vote comes at a horrible time for the MTA. A strike looms Friday morning and now the union called today's budget vote an insult to its members.

Ed Watt, TWU Treasurer: "We have to worry about getting a contract in the next 36 to 48 hours. It makes it very difficult.

Negotiations are set to begin at 3:30 this afternoon at the Hyatt.

The Bloomberg administration has jumped right in the middle of this transit situation. They're filing a lawsuit today to ask for more fines against individual union members. The suit is identical to one filed three years ago but it was really never heard by a judge and was thrown away once a contract was settled.

Meanwhile, it was a fairly short session in last night's talks and the atmosphere inside the negotiations described as "increasingly tense."

That view is from the head of the Transit Workers Union, who says his workers are now on a "precipice." If they fall off, a strike is very possible.

N.J. Burkett was in Midtown last night during the latest Transit talks.

Roger Toussaint, Transit Workers Union President: "If there's a strike, it's the MTA's fault."

Roger Toussaint says the MTA pushed his union to the brink of its first strike in 25 years.

The talks have become increasingly tense. The MTA's billion dollar surplus has clearly raised the union's expectations, setting the stage for a showdown.

Roger Toussaint: "The MTA has taken a more arrogant posture especially in light of the surplus."

In a Brooklyn courtroom yesterday, a judge sided with the MTA and issued a restraining order that would impose huge fines in the event of a strike.

And the city filed its own lawsuit that would impose additional fines of $25,000 per worker, that would double each day.

At a massive union rally last night, Toussaint ripped up the legal papers and later, said the mayor was heavy handed and out of touch.

Toussaint: "I think it is reminiscent of Giuliani ... I'm disappointed ... He obviously has significant problems understanding what $25,000 means to a working person."

Toussaint insists the public supports the union, which may or may not be the case.

Rider: "I understand the job is hard, but everyone right now is screaming they need more money."

But even Toussaint admits, that could change.

N.J. Burkett: "If there is a strike, will the public turn against you?"

Toussaint: "Well, I hope not. We ask the public to understand our situation."

A spokesman for the MTA refused to comment on Toussaint's comments.

Both sides are hoping that all of this can be settled at the bargaining table. Negoitiations last night only lasted an hour-and-a-half.

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