NY Transit Workers Reject New Contract

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By DAVID B. CARUSO, Associated Press Writer

The city's 33,000 transit workers rejected a new contract by a mere seven
votes Friday, raising fears of another crippling strike like the one that
brought subways and buses to a standstill a month ago.

The Transport Workers Union voted down the contract, despite the
urging of union President Roger Toussaint to ratify the agreement. He
said the final tally was 11,234 against and 11,227 in favor.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the harshest critics of the three-day
walkout in December, called the contract rejection "disappointing news
to all New Yorkers." He urged both sides to return to the negotiating
table.

Toussaint did not address the possibility of another strike. But
opponents of the proposed three-year contract said they were hopeful a
new deal could be reached without another walkout.

"I would not advocate going back on strike," said union Vice President
Ainsley Stewart, who opposed the new contract. Stewart said opponents
were most upset by a provision that would have required workers for
the first time to contribute part of their salaries toward health care
premiums.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Peter S. Kalikow issued
a written statement expressing disappointment with the vote. The MTA,
which oversees the city's mass transit system, also informed the union
it intends to seek binding arbitration to resolve the dispute.

Toussaint blamed "downright lies" told by contract opponents for the
ratification failure but said the union's leadership was ready to "go
back to the drawing board" as soon as possible. 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 strike that started Dec. 20 shut down the nation's largest mass
transit system in the middle of the holiday shopping season. It was
the first system-wide strike since an 11-day walkout in 1980, and it
left millions of New Yorkers and tourists scrambling to find ways to
get around the city.

It was also an illegal strike. State law forbids strikes by public
employees, and the walkout put the union and its members at financial
risk.

The union was fined $3 million, and workers were docked two days' pay
for each day on strike, though a Brooklyn judge has yet to determine
exactly how much of those penalties the union and its employees will
pay.

The rejected contract would have provided raises of 3 percent in the
first year, then 4 percent and 3.5 percent in the following two
years. But it would have required the workers for the first time to
contribute 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health care premiums.

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


Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

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