Monday, April 24, 2006

So what's the MTA's fine?

Local 100 of the Transit Workers Union will be fined 2.5 million dollars, lose dues check-off for at least 90 days (they can appeal at 90 days), and Roger Toussaint will serve his ten days of contempt of court starting tomorrow. You can show your support for Toussaint's brave actions on behalf of union members, their families, and the people of New York by coming to this rally tomorrow at 4pm:


Court Street (between Montague and Remsen)
Near Borough Hall
Trains: 2,3,4,5,N,R to Borough Hall;
A,C,F to Jay Street/Borough Hall

Meanwhile, to once again demonstrate the real intentions of the MTA, the union has ratified the original deal by more than 70 percent. Steven Greenhouse noted:

The authority brushed aside the union's demand yesterday, insisting that it had taken the contract terms off the table after the workers stunned the city by voting them down in January. Tom Kelly, a spokesman for the authority, dismissed the union revote as "an empty gesture."

An empty gesture. I feel like coming around and agreeing to a reasonable agreement is not nearly as empty as rescinding the offer that was already on the table. Unless, as i said before, the motivations of the MTA's actions was not to promote labor peace and effectively serve the people of New York, but in fact to try to break the TWU. So as they continue to stall, to fail to negotiate, to engage in good faith bargaining, what is the punishment for the MTA? Labor law governing public sector employees in New York State, the Taylor Law, makes it illegal for public employees and their unions to “cause, instigate, encourage or condone a strike.” but what about employers trying to instigate it?

It's no accident that public sector workers, along with farm workers, transportation workers, and domestic workers, were not protected by the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. Sure, it may be that the labor policy of the United States should be carried out "by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection," but why should the government deal with the messy consequences of empowering its own employees? Then it would need to sanction itself when it carried out unfair labor practices, set aside more resources on the off chance that collective bargaining would mean that workers would actually receive fair compensation and benefits for their work, etc.

In 1947, New York passed the Condon-Wadlin Act to regulate public sector workers and set penalties for public sector workers who struck, including immediate firing, probation without tenure for 5 years, and a bar from pay raises for three years if reinstated. Considering the union density of the country and the post WWII growing pains of the economy, these provisions were really not enforcable. According to a brief Cornell University piece summing up the history of the Taylor Law, there were 21 public sector strikes from 1947 to 1964, and it was invoked in a third of those instances, with only 18 employees being fired. The provisions were modified in 1963, with the pay freeze lowered to 6 months, the probation period lowered to one year, and a new provision, two days pay deducted for each day on strike. The New York transit strike of 1966 proved that these provisions were also not useful, as the transit workers went out for 12 days.

After the strike had been resolved, Governor Nelson "drop the" Rockefeller "drug laws" founded a panel to "make legislative proposals for protecting the public against the disruption of vital public services by illegal strikes, while at the same time protecting the rights of public employees." The 1967 law created by the committee was named The Taylor Law after Professor George Taylor, chair of the Committee. By creating a path for negotiation between unions and public sector employers, the Taylor did make life somewhat easier for organizing public sector unions. But much like its national counterpart, the National Labor Relations Board, the Public Employees Relations Board (or PERB, appropriately) seems to have much stiffer penalties for workers and unions than it does for employers. Failing to bargain in good faith is often met with an incredible strong, well, order to bargain.

And here we are now. A group of thousands of workers that make our city run, facing a group of board members who, by their actions of the last 3 years right up to this very moment, seem intent on causing, instigating, and encouraging a strike. So nu, Justice Jones, tell us; what's the MTA's penalty?

Take action: show up to the TWU rally today. See you there.


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