After the all-night negotiation concluded without a new contract, talks continued Monday at MTA headquarters downtown. Under the Taylor Law, a New York statute that defines the rights and limitations of unions in the state, the negotiations will move into binding arbitration if one of the parties involved in the talks declares an impasse. Jim Gannon, a spokesman for Local 100, told The Observer he doesn’t think either side is in a rush to end the negotiations.
“I don’t think there is a deadline as long as it’s in good faith and they’re agreeing on things. We don’t have a deadline,” Mr. Gannon said. “I don’t think they have a deadline either.”
The union would rather see both sides reach an agreement than enter arbitration.
“One reason we’d rather not go to binding arbitration is, in binding arbitration the members don’t get to vote on the agreement they’re going to be living under,” Mr. Gannon said. “So we would much prefer to have a negotiated settlement.”
A spokeswoman for the MTA declined to comment on the TWU talks.
Though sources told us a strike or other work slowdown could be possible as a last resort, if the MTA isn’t willing to make any concessions, there are several differences between the current talks and the 2005 negotiations that make a work stoppage much less likely. In 2005, the MTA entered negotiations with Local 100 shortly after announcing a $1.04 billion budget surplus. This year, the agency is operating with a deficit of $68 million.
Mr. Gannon said that, while the TWU understands the economic realities facing the MTA, they aren’t going to tolerate being taken advantage of.
“It’s almost like they said, ‘This is a good time to throw the kitchen sink at them, because the economy sucks. Here’s our chance to get everything we ever wanted in the history of transit bargaining,’” Mr. Gannon said.
This year’s cast of characters around the bargaining table is also different than in 2005. Mr. Samuelsen was elected union president in 2009. He was a longtime rival of Mr. Toussaint, the outgoing president who led the strike seven years ago. There is also new leadership at the MTA. Current MTA CEO and chairman Joe Lhota was appointed by Governor Cuomo in late October after his predecessor, Jay Walder, decamped to Hong Kong to take a job as CEO of MTR Corporation Limited, which owns and operates the Hong Kong MTR metro system.
According to Mr. Gannon, Mr. Samuelsen and Mr. Lhota enjoy a much better relationship than the union had with the previous administration.
“Just on a personal level, between him and John, if it was Walder and John, I think it would have been very, very difficult for them to get an agreement,” Mr. Gannon said. “With Lhota so far, I mean, you know, when I say John likes him, maybe that might be strong. But I think he respects him and he thinks that Lhota’s honest and not a phony. He thinks he’s genuine, he’s not a bullshitter.”
The 2005 strike was also a gamechanger. Though the TWU managed to wrangle an 11 percent wage hike over three years from the MTA, it paid dearly for the raise. Under the Taylor Law, public employees are barred from going on strike. Penalties for the 2005 work stoppage included several days in jail for Mr. Toussaint and suspension of a program that automatically deducted union dues from members’ paychecks. This cost Local 100 millions.
“We got the dues checkbook back, but we’re still under an injunction and it could be lifted again at any moment,” Mr. Gannon said. “We’re still owed $8 million in back dues. A significant portion of the membership is in bad standing because of nonpayment of dues. It’s a totally different atmosphere.”
After a day off Tuesday, the TWU and the MTA are set to return to the bargaining table to plan a regular schedule for further talks. An imminent contract deal seems highly unlikely, but thankfully for city commuters, so does another transit strike.