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Letters to the Editor March 24, 2006

TWU Deal Not Worth Reviving

To the Editor:

THERE IS A TREMENDOUS amount of misinformation regarding the rejected TWU Local 100 contract. As an elected vice president of Local 100 and one of the four members on the 46-member executive board who voted against the contract and spearheaded a "vote no" campaign which led to its defeat, I believe it is critical your readers hear from me regarding what the rejected contract meant to our members and the different ways it would have negatively affected us and labor as a whole.

The contract reached after the Dec. 20, 2005 strike contained language extremely detrimental to our union.

Contracts are about improving members' wages and benefits. But Local 100 President Roger Toussaint's 2005 contract did neither - leaving members no alternative but to reject it. His 1.5-percent health-care giveback stood to negatively affect everyone in the worst of ways after he had condemned concessionary bargaining and the setting of bad precedents for labor.

Toussaint's disinformation and misinformation campaign prior and post the contract's rejection has left many in and outside transit with the false belief our members turned down one of their best contracts ever.

The covert contract "re-vote" campaign and the individuals involved - including some Toussaint appointees and executive board members elected on his slate - left no doubt Toussaint is the driving force behind it, a situation which shows his disrespect for the membership's decision to reject the contract.

Dollar for dollar, the contract was the "poorest," not "rich," as Toussaint calls it. The contract before the strike was worth $477 million. The contract after the strike was worth only $400 million. Paying a health-care premium of 1.5 percent of gross income to start - including overtime - for the same level of health care did not make sense by any stretch of the imagination - unless you are Toussaint or the MTA.

Also, the contract, stated, "In future years, the 1.5-percent contribution rate shall be increased by the extent to which the rate of increase in the cost of health benefits exceeds general wage increases." With health-care cost increases reaching double digits in recent years and annual pay increases in the very low single digits, the agreement was a recipe for disaster.

Equally disturbing and unjust is the fact that there was no cap on the amount of increase the MTA could impose.

Toussaint flooded work sites with a flier dated Jan. 3, 2006, containing a formula and calculations showing cost increases would be almost nothing. But, there was no formula in the contract language - which created further distrust for what Toussaint was saying.

The premium also unjustly discriminated against our members. Earn $40,000 annually and you will pay a $600 premium; earn $80,000 and you pay $1,200. The more you earn, the more you pay. The 10.5-percent raises over three years amounted to very little to take home after the premium deductions.

When health-care costs rise, take-home pay would have been reduced even further.

Transit workers always had health-care coverage in retirement, but at a reduced level. However, Toussaint misled everyone outside transit to believe we did not have health coverage in retirement and he was getting retirees health benefits for the first time.

The rejected contract language stated, "pre-Medicare retirees receive the same benefits as active members." Pre-Medicare means coverage only until age 65 - not "lifetime" as fliers put out by Toussaint falsely claimed.

And, a member who started working at age 40 and works 25 years for a full pension - retiring at age 65 and Medicare-eligible - will not receive any benefits from paying the 1.5-percent premium, an amount which could total more than $40,000. Anyone who retires at 65 or older would experience a similar loss. With a great majority of our members retiring at or abut 65 - it made paying the premium unreasonable. NYC Transit supervisors pay a flat rate for retiree health care that is far superior to ours and which they keep during their "Medicare" years. A vast difference.

According to a TA memo, effective Jan. 1, 2006, supervisors whose annual income is $72,000 will pay $6 and $23 bi-weekly - flat rates for individual and family plans respectively. A $72,000 income for us including overtime, would mean premiums costing $41.53 bi-weekly. And, we would have been limited to two providers while supervisors have nine.

TWU Local 234 in Philadelphia recently settled a contract after a one-week strike. It included a flat 1 percent of base pay - not total earnings - with a provision that all managers pay the same 1 percent. Toussaint walked their picket lines. He was aware of their 1 percent; he even talked about it in The Chief. Yet he betrayed us with a higher premium rate. While paying for health care sets a bad precedent, at least the Local 234 and NYC Transit supervisors' packages are less expensive for their members than the one Toussaint forced on us.

Our pension refund has no place at the bargaining table either. It is money deducted from past paychecks. Its return does not come at any cost to the MTA. It must be returned to us unconditionally.

In 1992 Toussaint was part of a "vote no" campaign against President Sonny Hall's contract, which the membership rejected. As "New Directions" members, Toussaint and others, including myself, were part of a failed "vote no" campaign against President Willie James's 1999 contract.

Yet today, Toussaint chills free speech against this contract - imposing arbitrary punitive action against reps, including summary firing from jobs working for our union, and withholding their wages for failing to carry out his disinformation and misinformation schemes to keep members in the dark.

At "shop gate" meetings Toussaint admitted to members in attendance that the 1.5-percent premium he agreed to is a "bitter" pill. Yet, he publicly and unjustly accuses members who campaigned and voted against it as being "right wing," "fifth column," and charges "they believe a failed contract would put them in a better position at this December election for President," which is irrational, to say the least.

Evidently, Toussaint has no plans to fight for a better contract. Today, his plans are to play to our emotions as he sends his "operatives" to work sites where they preach "contract doomsday" to demoralize members into surrendering to the 1.5percent premium, instead of rebuilding for a fight for a better contract. Taking the membership out on strike to protect the "unborn" from paying 6 percent for their pension for 10 years, only to return us to work without a contract, subsequently agreeing for both active members and the "unborn" to pay a healthcare premium which would generate a larger sum of money for the MTA makes absolutely no sense by any stretch of the imagination.

After the Dec. 15 deadline passed, Toussaint negotiated the contract alone, limiting members' aspirations. But, he outfoxed himself. And boxed himself in. Trapped and defeated, Toussaint blames everyone for his failure - instead of himself - which is all sour grapes. Sad but true.

Our members are not as unreasonable as Toussaint would make it seem. All we need are wages and benefits that would keep us ahead of inflation. Not an agreement which gives us 10.5-percent raises subjected to an annual 1.5-percent deduction from gross pay for health care. If we cannot score while the MTA has a billion-dollar surplus, we will never score.

AINSLEY STEWART, Vice President, TWU Local 100

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