Thursday, December 22, 2005

Deal Approved Ending NY Transit Walkout; Talks Continue
By Josh Getlin And Jesus Sanchez
Times Staff Writers

The leaders of New York's striking transit workers voted today to return their members to work on the third day of a union walkout that has shut down the nation's largest subway and bus system.

Some bus and subway service could resume later today after the board of the Transit Workers Union Local 100 ended the walkout by its 33,000 members as the union and the city's transit authority agreed to restart contract talks, according to Eladio Diaz, a member of the TWU's executive board.

"They return to work immediately," said TWU President Roger Toussaint in brief remarks before reporters. "We thank all riders for their patience and forbearance."

Earlier today, state mediators announced the first major breakthrough in the labor dispute, which has stranded 7 million riders a day, after the TWU and the Metropolitan Transit Authority agreed to resume negotiations.

"In the best interest of the public, which both parties serve, we have suggested and they have agreed to resume negotiations while the TWU takes steps toward returning its membership to work," said mediator Richard Curreri in a news conference.

However, the resumption of negotiations does not mean that both sides are close to resolving the dispute over pay, pension and health care benefits. While the transit authority continues to demand concessions on pension benefits, it has agreed to discuss alternative ways to cut costs and improve its financial future, Curreri said.

Negotiations have been "fruitful" but an agreement "remains out of the parties' reach at this time," Curreri said.

Indeed, the TWU decision to end the strike was not unanimous, and was attacked by dissident board members.

"I do not understand the concept of giving up the stranglehold [on the MTA]," said union board member George Perlstein, who voted against ending the strike. We got nothing. Absolutely nothing. We're going back to work, but it's unconscionable. "

For the third consecutive morning, millions of New Yorkers transit users, walked, biked and hitchhiked to work. An off-duty firefighter was critically injured today when he was hit by a private bus while riding his bike to work, according to Associated Press.

Workers have remained on the picket line despite huge fines and court orders that have declared the strike illegal and demanded their return to work. Business owners have complained about empty stores and restaurants during what is normally the busy holiday shopping season.

The transit workers initially sought a 24% wage increase over three years; the MTA offered them 10%. State officials also want future transit employees to pay for part of their health benefits, a proposal the union staunchly opposes. No money is taken out of workers' paychecks for healthcare now.

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Getlin reported from New York, Sanchez from Los Angeles. Times wire services contributed to this story.

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