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Queens Chronicle

Long Stalemate Expected After Union Quits Strike Negotiations

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Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2005 12:00 am

Negotiations between the unions for Green Bus and Command Bus employees and the city broke down last Thursday when the union officials walked out of the meeting over a medical compensation package, sending the bus strike into its second week.

Now politicians and labor officials are warning that the strike will last indefinitely. Union heads and city labor lawyers both say they will negotiate any place, any time, but both sides are digging in their heels and preparing for a long strike.

The main sticking point between the unions and the mayor is a $2-million offer by the city to pay retroactive medical bills, which Labor Relations Commissioner James Hanley pulled off the table during the latest bargaining session. The two sides had agreed on a wage increase for workers and a retroactive raise, but they also disagreed on when the new wages would start.

The unions want the raises to take effect immediately, but the city has pushed for the raises to kick in concurrently with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority takeover of the bus lines, which is scheduled for early this year. The union has balked at that proposal, citing two previous missed deadlines by the MTA.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a hastily arranged press conference Thursday to announce that talks had stalled. Clearly annoyed, the mayor said the city had offered the unions everything they wanted but that they were intent on striking. “The offer we made today is simply the best the city can do. For reasons we don’t understand, the unions are not willing to send their employees back to work, and the people of Brooklyn and Queens are unfairly suffering for it.”

John Longo, president of Amalgamated Transit Union 1179 and one of the two union heads to negotiate with Hanley, argued that the mayor’s negotiator had not bargained in good faith. He called the city’s latest proposal “a blatant attempt at union-busting” because, if the raises were to be paid by the MTA, the unions would be forced to lobby the private companies to relinquish operating control to the MTA.

According to Longo, that would violate a federal statute and union members would be forced to forfeit some of their job-protection rights.

The union and city had agreed on a $1,000 lump-sum payment to union employees, along with a 3 percent raise retroactive to 2004 before the medical package derailed the talks. The new delay imperils the April 30th deadline for the MTA to take over the Green Bus Lines, but Longo believes a quick solution is possible.

“This can be settled today if the mayor doesn’t backtrack on the medical plan,” Longo said in a Friday interview. “If they put the wage package back on the table, we could be right back to work. These are very simple contracts. We’re not talking about a lot of money here, but it’s up to the mayor. Nobody likes a strike.”

Council Speaker Gifford Miller, a vocal critic of the mayor, and Councilmen John Liu and Joseph Addabbo held a press conference Sunday at the intersection of Cross Bay Boulevard and Liberty Avenue in Ozone Park, ostensibly to get the “riders’ perspective” on the strike. But as on previous occasions, they mostly assaulted the mayor.

“The city is not interested in negotiating. The meeting that took place Thursday was not a type of negotiation. The mayor’s office said, ‘This is it, c’est la vie.’ It was a smokescreen and it’s going to be a long winter. This is a strike that has no end in sight,” Liu said Friday.

Addabbo, whose South Queens district is hardest hit by the strike, urged Bloomberg to expand the temporary transit services. He said that many residents of the Rockaways were stranded because there is no “dollar van” service on the Green Bus routes there. “What we need to do is prepare for a long negotiating process. There has to be a better plan B put in place by the administration. The mayor works for the residents. That’s his job.”

The strike, which began on January 10th, has affected 70,000 residents of Brooklyn and mostly South and Southeast Queens. The city has authorized so-called “dollar vans” and livery cabs to pick up passengers at specified stops along the Q10, Q11 and Q40 routes. For a list of the stops, visit the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s web site at www.nyc.gov or call 311.

Commuters are not supposed to pay more than $1.75 for dollar van service or $2.50 for livery cab service, but there have been reports of price gouging. Eligible passengers can schedule an Access-A-Ride pickup one or two days in advance by calling 877-337-2017 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The fare is $2, exact change only.

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