NYC M.T.A. Asks for Restoration of Automatic Dues Payment after TWU Pres accepts ban on strikes
November 2, 2007
M.T.A. Asks for Restoration of Automatic Dues Payment
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
After a 60-hour strike that halted subway and bus service in 2005, a state judge penalized the Transport Workers Union by taking away its most powerful money-raising tool: automatic collection of dues from members’ paychecks.
The judge said the union could regain the automatic collection, which brings in millions, only if the union local’s leadership explicitly agreed that it did not have the right to strike again. A state statute, the Taylor Law, prohibits strikes by public employees.
However, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has now made a major concession by urging the judge to permit the union to resume the withdrawals, even though the authority said it did not think the union had made a firm promise not to strike.
In court papers made public yesterday, the authority said it was hoping to achieve labor harmony.
Its switch has so infuriated city officials that the Bloomberg administration stepped in later yesterday, asking the judge to keep the punishment in place until union leaders “once and for all time declare unequivocally that they may not, and will not, ever again engage in a strike.”
The day’s dizzying developments reflected the bitter feelings that still linger from the strike, which lasted from early morning Dec. 20 through the afternoon of Dec. 22, playing havoc with the holiday shopping season and forcing millions of people to walk, bicycle or find another way to get to work.
The president of the union’s Local 100, Roger Toussaint, lashed out yesterday at Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and authority officials, who he said were playing politics by refusing to allow the union to resume dues collection without any further restrictions.
“It’s time to put this matter behind us and not draw it out yet again,” Mr. Toussaint said in a written statement.
It was Mr. Toussaint’s words in an affidavit submitted to State Supreme Court in Brooklyn in late September that fueled yesterday’s developments.
In the affidavit, Mr. Toussaint acknowledged that the state’s Taylor Law bars strikes by government employees. And taking language directly from state statutes, he said, “The union does not assert the right to strike” against the authority or any other government agency.
The authority’s request to the judge, filed by Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, said Mr. Toussaint’s acknowledgment “falls short of a commitment” not to strike again. But it said that the authority was concerned that continuing to deprive the union of dues would prevent it from adequately representing its members and would damage the authority’s efforts to repair relations with the union.
The city’s chief lawyer, Michael A. Cardozo, had no such reservations and was caustic in denouncing what he termed Mr. Toussaint’s “lip service” on the issue of future strikes.
He pointed out that the union had struck three times since 1966, more than any other public union, and had threatened strikes on two other occasions.
“In the last 40 years there have been three brutal transit strikes,” Mr. Cardozo wrote. “In each instance the injunctions prohibiting the strikes have been ignored. This cannot be allowed to continue.”
He also said that the city would not accept a statement from Mr. Toussaint and that the union’s entire executive board should approve a pledge not to strike.
Elliot G. Sander, the chief executive of the transportation authority, said the issue had been discussed with Mr. Toussaint and with city officials.
“It looks like we disagreed with both the T.W.U. and the city,” Mr. Sander said. He quickly added the qualifier, “Respectfully.”
He said the authority had decided to ask that the dues collection be restored as part of its efforts to improve labor relations, which hit a low point over the strike and have improved markedly in recent months.
“This position recognizes that the strike in 2005 was a major dislocation to the city and that the union broke the law,” Mr. Sander said. “On the other hand, it is important to the M.T.A. and to the public that we have a functional union, and the T.W.U. and the M.T.A. have taken some very good steps to rebuild our relationship.”
He said it was a “fair compromise” to ask the court to suspend the penalty under the condition that it could be reinstated swiftly if the union threatened to strike.
The city was not alone, however, in saying the union should be asked to state plainly that it would change its ways.
“Given this union’s history, it’s a huge mistake to let them off the canvas,” said Edmund J. McMahon, a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research organization. “The mayor’s right. The M.T.A. should accept nothing less than an unequivocal pledge from them as a union renouncing the strike as a weapon, period.”
Automatic dues collection, known as dues check-off, did not halt until June this year, because the union had asked the court to allow it to continue receiving dues while it paid a $2.5 million fine assessed as an additional punishment for the strike.
Since June, the union has had to ask its members to pay their dues in other ways, like signing up to have them transferred electronically from personal bank accounts. In papers submitted to the court, the union said its collections from June through August were $1.1 million below what they would have been if the automatic collections had been allowed to continue. It said it had laid off some staff workers.
The union has also said it has halted many of its activities on behalf of its members, resulting in a backlog of grievance hearings and other matters.
The union lost its dues check-off after an 11-day strike in 1980, but it was restored four months later.
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