Had a great weekend in New York, and got to see several friends (including this one) in various parts of the city, thanks in no small part to the hard work of the MTA employees who make the subway run every day. My sense is that Steven Greenhouse is largely right in his assessment that the deal represents a real victory for the Transport Workers’ Union. The biggest concession made by the union, its agreement to have workers pay a small portion of healthcare costss, is a real and unfortunate one. But it managed to hold the line on pensions and dramatically retroactively improve the the pensions of many workers while winning maternity leave and an MLK Day holiday. And the union routed the MTA on the issue likely to have the greatest long-term significance: the MTA’s bid to create a two-tiered workforce by convincing current workers to sell out the men and women who will do their jobs in the future by consigning them to inferior contracts.
That transit workers were derided as selfish for striking to protect the benefits of future workers is one of the bitter ironies of this strike (there are others, like the absence from the press of mention that the MTA’s insistence on pension concessions was as illegal as the union’s strike). But evaluating the nobility of choices based on whether they are in the self-interest of those who take them is a bankrupt approach anyway. These workers made the difficult choice to strike their jobs and picket in the face of freezing weather and hostile media to secure better livelihoods for themselves and their current and future co-workers. And then they went back to work at a job few of the perpetually aghast conservatives heaping racialized insults on them could imagine doing.
It’s a shame it had to come to a strike. This contract could have been signed a month ago if George Pataki had wanted it. The last minute worsening of the MTA’s contract suggests that what he wanted is a strike, and he got it. In terms of public opinion, however, things didn’t quite go the way he planned.