New York Transit Workers Set to Return

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Transit union leaders tentatively agree to end a three-day walkout in New York City. The deal would restore bus and subway traffic while negotiators return to the bargaining table.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Coming up, why the bones of late British broadcaster Alistair Cooke were stolen in New York.

But first, there is some good news about that city's transit strike.

Mr. RICHARD CURRERI (New York State Mediator): In the best interests 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.

BRAND: That's New York state mediator Richard Curreri today, announcing that striking transit workers will go back to work while negotiations continue. He also noted, however, that an agreement was still out of reach. I speak earlier with NPR's Luke Burbank in New York.

LUKE BURBANK reporting:

They didn't really agree much on the substance of the strike, what the strike was over, but what they did agree on was that the transit union agreed to start the process of getting the buses and subways running again while they continue to try to negotiate. And that is the really big deal because this city has been completely paralyzed. I mean, think about--you used to live here, Madeleine. Think about how busy a Manhattan street is and then think about the fact that seven million people are moving underground that whole time. So I think that the public opinion has started to sort of tilt towards annoyance and towards thinking that these folks should be getting back to work.

BRAND: So was that part of the reason why the union decided to return to the bargaining table?

BURBANK: Well, yesterday was a really weird day, Madeleine, here in New York because on one hand, the rhetoric was reaching a fever pitch. You had Roger Toussaint, who's the president of the Transport Workers Union Local 100, out there criticizing the state and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and anyone else who was sort of criticizing him. But they were saying--that would be the governor, Pataki, George Pataki, and also Mayor Michael Bloomberg--was that transit workers were thugs and opportunists and were trying to bring the city to its knees. So there was all this arguing going back and forth.

But then there was this one little story that sort of emerged, which was that this guy, Roger Toussaint, the head of the transit workers--he said, `Look, if we can just revisit this topic of pensions,' which had been a big part of the argument, `then maybe we can come back to the bargaining table.'

BRAND: So pensions, that's the key sticking point?

BURBANK: Yeah. And interestingly enough, it's not even the pensions of any of the current workers. It was an issue relating to--and continues to be an issue, because it hasn't actually been solved yet--an issue relating to people that are yet to be hired. The union loves to call them `our unborn union members.' And basically at issue was the MTA, the Metropolitan Transpiration Authority, wanted the retirement age to be moved up to 62. The union said, `No, we want to keep it at 55.' The MTA came back and said, `OK, fine. You can retire at 55, but you have to pay more of your salary into your pension.' And so that has been the big sticking point, and they still haven't resolved it but at least they've made enough movement that the workers are agreeing to go back to work.

BRAND: So any movement on that front? Do we know when they will return back to work?

BURBANK: Well, there's a little bit of a process that has to go into place now, so the sort of top brass--that would be Roger Toussaint--of the union has agreed to start the process of getting the trains and the subways--the subways and buses running. But the thing that's still going to be a little disappointing for the average New Yorker is that we're talking eight to 12 hours before all those trains and buses are up and running and things sort of feel normal again.

BRAND: NPR's Luke Burbank on the streets of New York City. Thank you, Luke.

BURBANK: Sure, Madeleine.

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