Metro-North's top union rejects deal
Rank-and-file members of Metro-North's largest union have rejected a contract proposal calling for 10 percent wage increases over six years, an upstart move hailed by fellow MTA labor leaders who feared they'd be pressured into taking the same paltry deal, Newsday has learned.
On Monday night, some 1,600 members of the Association of Commuter Rail Employees refused to ratify a deal worked out months ago between its own leadership and Metro-North, sources familiar with the negotiations said. The union represents Metro-North conductors, engineers, rail traffic controllers, signal operators and yardmasters.
Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said the agency does not comment on collective bargaining agreements and would not comment on what it means to other unions.
"We constructed the best deal possible in light of our financial situation and our bargaining objectives, and we are disappointed that it was not ratified," she said. "We will continue to attempt to negotiate contracts that meet our bargaining objectives and are consistent with the MTA financial plan."
Aside from the wage increases, the deal called for an additional 7 percent in so-called arbitrary payments, such as for employees who obtain certain license certifications.
However, in a concession to Metro-North's demands, for the first time it would have forced the union's members to kick in 2 percent of wages earned every 40-hour workweek toward health care.
The rejection was a setback for the union's leadership, which tried to convince its members that they are among the few government or private workers not paying a percentage of health care costs.
The leadership cited a difficult economic climate that has led the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Metro-North's parent agency, to turn to commuters and straphangers to raise revenues in a perpetually cash-strapped agency. The MTA approved 7.5 percent revenue hikes in 2010 and 2012 for each of its bus, rail and subway systems. In March, fares will raise as high as 16.7 percent for Metro-North riders.
ACRE's director, Anthony Bottalico, declined to comment. Metro-North officials did not provide a comment after several inquiries.
The union vote means both sides will go through another round of federal mediation over a contract that expired in July 2010. If that's not successful, the two sides will go before a presidential emergency board. Failing that, management could lock out workers or workers could strike.
Officials with the National Mediation Board, which is overseeing talks between the two sides, could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
NO RAISES FOR FIRST 2 YEARS
The ACRE agreement called for retroactive 0 percent raises for the first two years of the contract, followed by raises of 3, 2, 2 and 3 percent annually through 2016.
One conductor said Metro-North's insistence on unspecified work rules was the deal breaker for him.
"I realize we're in tough economic times, and I was willing to take zeros and pay medical," said one conductor. "But they wanted work rule concessions, too. Enough is enough. We're not an unreasonable lot, but don't take advantage of us."
The average salary for a Metro-North conductor is $105,000 per year, a union source said.
ACRE was the first of MTA's labor unions to put a deal to a membership vote. Labor leaders who are in the midst of mediation with the MTA were closely monitoring the outcome.
"We were definitely watching it," said Jim Gannon, a spokesman for Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents some 35,000 New York City Transit workers who are working without a contract since January 2012. "Their agreement from our perspective signaled that the MTA had money. There was some recognition in there that workers deserved a raise."
Gannon said transit workers already kick in 1.5 percent of their wages every 40-hour workweek.
OTHER UNIONS RIP DEAL, TOO
For some of the MTA unions, the proposal before ACRE's membership was a bad deal, and they praised the rank and file for rejecting the contract.
"They [Metro-North officials] thought that they were going to take the deal they had with ACRE and shove it down our throat," said Chris Silvera, the secretary-treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 808, which represents 600 Metro-North track and buildings department workers. "There was nothing in there that was overwhelmingly good."
Like several other Metro-North unions, Local 808 has been without a contract since July 2010 and had no raises in the 18 months leading up to its expiration, Silvera said.
If Local 808 had accepted the deal ACRE negotiated, "That's 3 1/2 years of zeros," Silvera said. "The price of food is going up. The clothes your kids wear cost more."
"The ACRE leadership believed it was a good deal and I'm sure they believed that," said Arthur Davidson, the general chairman of System Council 7 of the IBEW, which represents 775 Metro-North electrical workers. "We didn't like it."
The Long Island Rail Road's conductors union also opposed the ACRE contract.
"There was a lot in that agreement that wasn't for us," said Anthony Simon, the general chairman of the United Transportation Union, which represents Long Island Rail Road conductors.