By Juan Gonzalez Gov. Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg have vowed drastic penalties for thestriking members of the Transport Workers Union for violating the TaylorLaw. Yet the mayor and the governor have been completely silent about violationsof the same Taylor Law by their own appointed officials at the MetropolitanTransportation Authority. The most well-known portion of the law, Section210, states that "no public employee or employee organization shall engagein a strike." That is not, however, the only provision of the law. Othersections also provide protections to public employees. City union leadersand state lawmakers keep trying to point that out. They say the MTA itselftrampled a key provision of the Taylor Law by demanding that TWU PresidentRoger Toussaint accept an inferior pension plan for future members of hisunion as a condition of a new labor contract. Section 201 of the law clearly states that "no such retirement benefits shall be negotiated pursuant to this article, and any benefits so negotiated shall be void." Onlythe Legislature has the legal authority to approve changes in publicemployee pension systems. Not the MTA. Not the mayor. And not the governorall by himself. That's the way it always has been. MTA officials haveclaimed for several days that reforming the union's pension plan becamethe main unresolved issue to a settlement. "That's what's known as animpermissible subject of bargaining," said Assemblyman Richard Brodsky(D-Westchester), who is chairman of the Assembly committee that oversees theMTA. Sure, unions and public agencies sometimes agree, as part of anoverall labor settlement, to jointly petition the Legislature for pensionchanges, but management can't simply force a union to accept a worseretirement plan. "If the governor is going to be a tough guy about theTaylor Law with the union, he should be tough as well on the law when itcomes to the MTA," Brodsky said yesterday. This crippling strike could beover in hours if Pataki ordered the MTA to adhere to the same Taylor Law hewants the union to respect. Toussaint said as much to a group of 40 citylabor leaders in a telephone conference around noon yesterday. He repeatedit a few hours later in a meeting with several dozen black political andreligious leaders and in a press conference later in the afternoon. Hisplea is now being taken up by many leaders eager to bring labor peace backto the city. Municipal union leaders, headed by teachers union chief RandiWeingarten, urged the mayor and the governor to set aside the pension issuefor now. Meanwhile, several state legislators made the same pitch in Albany.If there are reforms needed in public employee pensions, they say, theyshould be negotiated with all the unions involved in the city's retirementsystem, not by singling out the transit workers union as a test case. Buteven before Toussaint spoke, Pataki delivered yet another blisteringcriticism of the strikers. Worse, he tried to escalate the conflict byurging no further contract talks until theunion returns to work. In twoprevious illegal transit strikes during the past 50 years, union leaders andpublic officials always kept negotiating until they reached asettlement. Thankfully, MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow moved forward yesterdaywith serious mediation efforts that continued late last night. Kalikow appearsto be the only top MTA official eager to reach a deal. His boss Pataki, onthe other hand, is eager to prove to the nation what a tough-guy President hewould make. In Toussaint and his 33,000 union members, he sees his ticket to fame. Sowhat if the public has to endure a few more days of a transit strike thatnever should have happened in the first place? Who will listen to a bunch ofunion members engaged in an illegal strike, the governor and the mayor seemto think. We'll soon find out if they're right.