BY DAN JANISON AND HERBERT LOWE
STAFF WRITERS

December 28, 2005

The executive board of the transit system's main union last night overwhelmingly approved a contract deal that would raise workers' wages a combined 11 percentage points over three years. The proposed pact included no pension concessions, but for the first time employees would pay a portion of their health insurance.

The agreement would end the worst labor crisis at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in a quarter century - one that led Transport Workers Union Local 100 to strike for three days last week.

The union's 33,700 members would vote by mail on whether to ratify the deal, which was approved 37-4 by the executive board, with one abstention.

The pact included proposed annual raises of 3, 4 and 3.5 percent - the MTA's pre-strike "final offer" - but without a major pension concession on which it had hinged.

However, city bus and subway employees will have to pay 1.5 percent of their pay in health benefits, through a first-ever premium.

According to state budget documents, the MTA in July set aside funds for a wage and fringe increase at the regional inflation rate. That was calculated at 2.9 percent per year.

This could come close to the final rate when the health insurance concession is taken into account. But sources close to both sides cautioned that the cost of fines for the strike and other factors such as work rules, deployment and other possible improvements for the workers had yet to be spelled out.

The executive board convened shortly after 9 p.m., and TWU president Roger Toussaint made the announcement in a terse 3-minute statement at the union's West Side headquarters about two hours later.

"We extend thanks to our riders and to our members for the support that they have received in the last couple of weeks of difficulty," Toussaint said.

He said members also will get Martin Luther King Day as a holiday and receive paid maternity leave for the first time.

Public employee strikes are barred under the state Taylor Law, which carries a fine of two days' pay for each day off the job as well as millions of dollars in fines for the union and a loss of dues checkoff privileges.

Toussaint has faced dissent within the executive board over concessions.

Yesterday, John Mooney, a member of the executive board who was opposed to ending the three-day strike, attended the scheduled meeting but said he did not vote. He said after the announcement that he was pleased about one thing: that retirees will be allowed to keep their health insurance.

Just before talks broke off, leading to the three-day walkout, the MTA withdrew its earlier proposal to raise the retirement age for a full pension to 62 from 55, affecting future workers. But management demanded a 6 percent paycheck contribution to the pension fund for new workers. It is 2 percent for those now on the job.

Toussaint has insisted he would not let his union be split into an older group with better benefits and a younger group with lesser benefits.

Mitchell Strong, 45, a bus operator for 14 years, said yesterday during a break outside the subway station at West 72nd Street that he'd support the agreement based on what he'd heard of it. He said the strike will have been worth it if the pension issue was off the table.

"You got to give up something," Strong said. "We didn't want to give up anything, but that's what happens sometimes, you know. Everybody has to give a little bit."

A token booth operator in the station, who would not give her name, said she would not draw any conclusions until an agreement goes to the membership.

"I have to hear more, to see if it's going to be me that's going to be contributing more or if it's going to be the new members," the operator said. She added that she didn't have a problem with the contract offered just before the strike.

To the east, at East 92nd Street and York Avenue in Manhattan, a bus operator on break expressed doubt the strike was worth it. He wondered how much the health care contribution would cut into the pay hike.

Across the street, another driver on break, Robert Fuhrmann, was quick to say, "I don't think we should have went on strike at all." Fuhrmann, with 16 years on the job, said the new agreement is "a little bit" better than the one offered just before the strike. "You're getting a bigger percentage on your pay increase but you're going to contribute on your health insurance," he said.

He also noted the pension increase would not have affected him - just the new hires.

Details of the transit settlement, according to union officials:

PAY

11 percent pay raise over three years, with annual hikes of 3, 4 and 3.5 percent. Possible one-time bonus would bring final year's raise to 4 percent

PENSION

Current pension plans remain intact

HEALTH

Workers pay 1.5 per- cent of wages for health benefits