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Transit workers reject new contract

Originally published on January 20, 2006


The city's transit workers, one month to the day after they stranded 7 million riders with a crippling three-day strike, voted Friday to reject their new three-year contract by a margin of just seven votes. The workers opted to ignore Transport Workers Union local president Roger Toussaint's call for ratification and follow the lead of a dissident group urging rejection. The voting ended at noon Friday, and Toussaint said the final tally was 11,234 against and 11,227 in favor.

Toussaint, who announced the surprising vote at a Manhattan news conference, blamed "downright lies" told by union members who opposed the proposed deal. He also said TWU members were worried by Gov. George Pataki's threat to veto a key $110 million refund of pension plan contributions.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the city's mass transit system, had no immediate comment. Toussaint said his union was ready to "go back to the drawing board" and meet with the MTA as soon as possible.

The Dec. 20 strike, right in the middle of the holiday shopping season, shut down the nation's largest mass transit system for three days. It was the first union shutdown of the mass transit system since an 11-day strike in 1980, and left New Yorkers scrambling to find their way around the city.

But it was an illegal walkout, violating the state's Taylor Law and putting the union's members at dire financial risk. TWU Local 100 was already fined $3 million, while TWU workers were hit with $35 million in fines — two days pay for each day on strike.

A Brooklyn judge has yet to determine exactly how much of those fines the union and its employees will pay. Toussaint could also face jail time over the walkout; a hearing scheduled for Friday was postponed.

The agreement would have provided workers with raises of 3 percent, 4 percent and 3.5 percent over the next three years. But it would have required them for the first time to contribute 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health care premiums.

The MTA agreed to pull a proposal that would have raised the retirement age for new hires from 55 or required new employees to contribute more to their pensions.

The deal was worked out in a late-night session with mediators after talks had broken down three hours after a midnight deadline. _____________________________________________________________
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