With Transit Workers chanting ‘Shut it down!’ union and MTA officials launched a last-ditch bid this morning to save the city from a costly, crippling bus and subway strike that would strand millions.
Top officials from Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority – including MTA boss Peter Kalikow – went behind closed doors in a 33rd-floor suite at the Grand Hyatt New York hotel and were still meeting two hours past the 12:01 a.m. deadline.
‘While we have precious little time, there still is time,’ Local 100 President Roger Toussaint said before going into the meeting around 11 p.m. ‘TWU Local 100 is prepared in good faith to work with all our heart and soul to come to a resolution.’
Both sides were still apart on the crucial issues of pensions, health care contributions and wages.
‘It’s down to the nitty-gritty,’ said one source familiar with the talks. ‘Now they have to come up with the numbers.’
A strike was averted three years ago after Kalikow and Toussaint met at the 11th hour – and there were hopes of a repeat this time around.
Also among those at this morning’s top-level meeting were union adviser Basil Paterson, (seen in photo just left of TWU President Roger Toussaint at podium microphone), TWU Secretary-Treasurer Ed Watt, MTA Executive Director Katherine Lapp and lead MTA negotiator Gary Dellaverson, sources said.
‘I expect they will be at the table for some time,’ one source said around 1 a.m. By 2 a.m. they were still talking – and the transit system was still rolling.
Earlier, the MTA called for binding arbitration, a move that would avert an illegal walkout and spare 7 million daily commuters major agita.
But union officials, representing more than 33,000 city bus and subway workers, shot the idea down.
‘Our members have the ultimate say in deciding their destiny and their future and we will never let our contract be settled by arbitration,’ Toussaint told hundreds of workers who rallied outside the E. 42nd St. hotel.
Toussaint led workers in several union-power chants – including one in which members were asked what should be done if they don’t get a fair contract.
The response: ‘Shut it down!’
The battle cries underscored tensions that many feared would boil over into the city’s first transit strike in 25 years.
Meanwhile, Kalikow, Lapp and Dellaverson, suggested that giving in to union demands would force up fares.
The MTA leadership owes ‘a special duty to our millions of customers, both today and for generations to come,’ Kalikow said. ‘We must make every effort to assure them a safe, reliable, affordable ride.’
With the city in the throes of uncertainty, Mayor Bloomberg was spending the night on a cot at the Office of Emergency Management. He issued an executive order – his first since the 2003 blackout – giving him the power to enforce major restrictions on traffic into Manhattan, and to fine offenders up to $500.
‘We are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,’ the mayor said.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly was set to scrap all days off for cops, and put just about every available officer on the street, in uniform. ‘It’s a major challenge for us and a major undertaking,’ he said.
NYPD overtime would run $10 million a day – part of a $700 million daily economic hit the city would take at the height of the holiday shopping and tourism season, officials say.
As the city planned, ordinary New Yorkers scrambled to arrange car pools and babysitting, while others were determined to take what promised to be a rainy day off. Public schools were to open two hours late in the event of a strike.
As talks went into the final round, MTA and union officials said progress had been made in some areas, such as work rules. But wages and benefits were the final sticking points.
The union argues it has been squeezed for years by the MTA, which it accuses of consistently overstating its financial woes.
The union had demanded three straight years of 8% raises but said it would bring those numbers down if the MTA agreed to reduce – by 25% – the amount of disciplinary actions against workers.
But sources close to the talks noted that the union didn’t immediately put revised numbers on the table, stymieing talks on wages for hours.
The MTA’s latest public offer was a 27-month contract with 3% and 3% raises – but the second raise would appear in paychecks only if workers reduced the amount of sick time used.
Although the authority has a year-end surplus of $1 billion, MTA officials said huge deficits are looming, starting with an $800 million gap in 2008.
That’s being driven largely by soaring pension and health costs, the MTA contends. The agency wants workers to pay more for prescriptions and doctor’s visits.
The MTA also wants new hires to pay more toward pensions than current workers and wait longer before pension benefits kick in – at 62 instead of 55.
Kalikow said the MTA would not be moved by a walkout. ‘Threatening to strike or striking will not make these issues go away, or in the end solve their [workers’] problems,’ he said.
Gov. Pataki reminded the union and workers they face significant penalties if they strike in violation of the state’s Taylor Law. Those penalties include workers losing two days’ pay for each day on the picket lines.
But Toussaint and union members have steadily maintained they were willing to take on the MTA – and the law – to get what they call a fair contract.
The union began mobilizing for a strike yesterday, a union source said.
Shop stewards were given instructions on how to safely shut down the system – including orders not to abandon trains and buses with passengers.
Some unions on commuter rail lines made rumblings about honoring picket lines, and there was talk of wildcat walkouts.