Revolutionary Transit Worker supplement – September 16, 2002

September 14 Meeting Adopts Fighting Contract Demands

Now Let’s Make Sure the Executive Committee Ratifies Them!

On September 14, well over 100 TWU Local 100 elected Executive Board, Division and Section Officers, as well as union staff and shop stewards traveled to SEIU Local 32B-32J (Janitors’ Local) Hall in Lower Manhattan to attend a Joint Expanded Executive Board Meeting. Just a few days before the meeting we received a notice announcing that the meeting’s agenda had changed. Its main business would now be to discuss and pass the Local’s program of contract demands. We were informed that the leadership would make its list of proposed demands (348 of them as it turned out) available to us just one hour before we would be expected to vote on them!

When we arrived we found that the meeting we were attending had become that of the official Contract Policy Committee (CPP). The Local’s By-Laws require that such a committee, made up of the Executive Board and Division Committee Officers meet at least 70 days before contract expiration to adopt a program of contract demands.

President Toussaint chaired the meeting and announced that everyone would have the chance to speak for two minutes on the question of contract demands and raise motions amending the list. The leadership’s proposed list included many good demands, including very important ones like:

Toussaint Leaving Room for a Sellout?

We know that in almost every contract negotiation, if the workers allow the union bureaucracy to get its way, the leadership comes up with an initially strong list of contract demands only to sell them out as the negotiations proceed. Only a union membership mobilized with a fighting leadership and ready to strike, if necessary, can prevent such a sellout.

In the RTW Supplement issued for the meeting we warned that the Toussaint leadership was looking to compromise on our health care and wage demands in particular.

Not surprisingly then, we found that on these crucial issues the Toussaint leadership’s proposals were vague enough to give them lots of room to sell-out in negotiations with management. But a number of officers at the meeting saw these dangerous points and raised amendments to plug the holes.

Fixing a Dangerous Health Care Demand

When RTW supporter and Track Division Vice-Chair Eric Josephson got his two minute chance to speak, he first addressed the proposed health care demand for a “fully funded Health Benefit Trust [for] current and additional benefits,” plus “prescription coverage” and “Major medical or its equivalent for pre-Medicare retirees.” This sounds great at first glance, but the devil is in the details, or in this case in the lack of details.

Brother Josephson pointed out that the demand didn’t say who should fully fund the HBT. This omission left the door open for increased payments from our pockets, which as we pointed out in the last RTW Supplement seems to be a sellout the Toussaint leadership is considering. To correct this Brother Josephson raised an amendment that our health care proposal be changed to clearly demands Fully MTA-Funded Health Benefits, with No New or Increased Membership Payments.

Quick-thinking by another Local 100 member also caught that the demand proposed by Toussaint & Co. left open the possibility that retirees would not receive full health care coverage. To correct that he raised an amendment so that we now demand Full Medical Benefits for Retirees.

Also, as we explained in the last RTW Supplement, Mayor Bloomberg and Gubernatorial candidates Pataki and McCall seem agreed on pushing through a fare increase to turn the rest of the working class public against us and our rightful contract demands. Yet we noted that the Toussaint leadership’s opposition to this is limited to a campaign of pressuring and lobbying politicians.

No matter how loud and militant this campaign turns out to be, it is no substitute for using the power of our contract struggle to force the MTA to agree to not raising the transit fare or reducing services for the life of our contract. In fact it runs the danger of diverting the membership from building the sort of mass struggle needed to win our contract demands. So Brother Josephson raised a motion that the demand for No Fare Hikes or Service Reductions be added to the list of official contract demands.

Many Better Demands Adopted

Many other excellent amendments or new demands were raised in addition to the above ones on health care. For example, one Sister raised the demand for paid leave for deaths in the family to be extended from three to five days. J.P. Patafio, Gleason Depot Chairman (TA Surface), raised motions calling for new employees to reach top pay after one year (it’s now three years) and that new employees get full union rights after six months (its now a year). Another delegate raised a motion calling for the end of all contracting out of work.

Toussaint & Co. may have hoped that their last-minute pushing of hundreds of demands on us would save them from demands like this. But once they were raised it would have been too embarrassing for them to oppose demands that the membership clearly support. On all the most important demands, when opposition to the new amendments and demands was asked for, none came from the Toussaint leadership. In all, over seventy new demands were passed by the meeting.

The adoption of these fighting contract demands was a tremendous victory for the membership. But as we will explain more in a moment, the membership will still has to make sure that the Toussaint leadership does not try to throw out or water down these demands in the coming days.

Toussaint Opposes Calls for a Big Raise

Unfortunately, one important demand raised in the September 14 meeting was defeated by the Toussaint leadership. In addition to supporting calls for the MTA to fully fund health benefits for all Local 100 members, Marty Goodman (Executive Board Representative from Stations) noted the Toussaint leadership’s vague call for a “substantial” raise. He argued that we should set a definite figure to fight for, and reminded Toussaint that he supported Willie James’s brief call for a 10 percent raise in the 1999 contract.

Toussaint, however, put his foot down on this question and openly opposed supporting a definite wage demand. He made the false argument that tying the leadership to the 10% figure would reduce their flexibility in negotiations. That’s b.s.; the higher the wage demand, in general, the higher the settlement. At this point Toussaint is clearly planning to propose a much smaller wage raise. No doubt he has bought into the capitalists’ arguments that they can’t afford to pay us better at this time. But as we pointed out in the last RTW Supplement, cops just got an 11.7% raise, and MetroNorth and Long Island Railroad workers are still better paid than us. So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t insist on a big wage raise to afford a better life for ourselves and our loved ones.

Nonetheless the Toussaint leadership prevailed on this question, and the motion for 10% raise failed. But that is certainly not the last word on the demand for a big raise. Members should take every chance from now until contract voting time to make clear that they’re going to fight for a big wage raise. If Willie Said 10% Why Won’t Roger? Let’s Win 10%!

Defend the Members’ Victories!

In spite of the defeat on the question of a big wage rise, the other new and amended proposals, plus many of the “official” demands, represent gains for the membership. They tie the Toussaint leadership to fighting for demands that they may have wished to avoid. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t try to throw them out or water them down.

In fact, Toussaint & Co. will get a big chance to ditch demands that they don’t want at the next Executive Board meeting. There, according to the Local’s By-Laws, the EB will have to approve the final program of contract demands.

Between now and then, rank-and-file members must keep the pressure on their Executive Board representatives to pass the Contract Policy Committee’s program of contract demands, and tell them you want the union to fight for a 10% raise as well!