Transit Breaks

It took them more than 24 hours to get there, but the two sides in the city's tense transit talks found their way back to the bargaining table today, but no one was suggesting that much was accomplished.

"There's not much to report so far. We met, we talked, and we're ready to keep meeting," said an official of Transport Workers Union Local 100 which represents 34,000 transit employees.

Even if no progress was made, it's better than the alternative. The shadow of a crippling transit strike has hung over the city's mass transit-dependent citizens since talks broke off in the wee hours of Friday morning with the two sides at loggerheads.

Transport Workers Union Local 100 president Roger Toussaint blamed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for refusing to budge from its demands that the union agree to reduce pension and health benefits for new members. MTA chairman Peter Kalikow retorted that that was as good as things were going to get.

As of now, the union has set 12:01 A.M. Tuesday as a new deadline. If no deal is reached by then, Toussaint has vowed a "series of strikes" against the system. Even before that, workers at two Queens bus lines which are not subject to state laws barring strikes by public employees, are expected to walk off the job Monday morning.

While none of the officials at the Grand Hyatt were talking much today, Mayor Bloomberg weighed in, stating that the MTA's offer was already "more generous" than it should be.

Although he's not a direct player in the talks, Bloomberg has a big stake in the outcome, as do other municipal unions. The MTA has demanded that new employees not be allowed to retire on a full pension until the age of 62, up from the current minimum of 55 years old. Bloomberg would love to get the same restriction in new city contracts, and that's one big reason that both the mayor's office and city municipal unions are watching the transit talks closely. Both police union president Pat Lynch, and teacher's union chief Randi Weingarten made it a point to show up to lend support to transit union leaders on Friday night.

Municipal unions are so alarmed at the prospect that the MTA could create a new "tier" for older workers that they have sent tough messages to Republican state senate majority leader Joe Bruno that if he wants their help with next year's elections he'd better pass the word to Kalikow and Governor Pataki.

"The thing is to get the senate to talk to the MTA," said the labor official, who refused to speak for attribution. "That was relayed to the senate on Friday."

State Republicans are already worried that with Governor Pataki having opted not to seek reelection, that the GOP could fare poorly in local and statewide races in 2006. Particularly tenuous is the Republican majority in the senate where the loss of a handful of seats could tip the balance of power to the Democrats.

"[Pataki] understands this too," said the official. "He doesn't want it to look like he let the senate go Democrat."

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