Transit bump in the road

The city's dicey transit union talks descended into a game of cat and mouse this afternoon as Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Peter Kalikow insisted he had already put his best offer on the table, and suggested that he might declare that the talks are at an impasse.

The last wage offer made by the MTA was 9 percent over three years, but the two sides remain far apart on many other issues including management demands to hike health benefit contributions and increase retirement age for new hires.

Kalikow added: "We are ready to talk to them if they want."

An official declaration by the MTA that the talks are hopelessly stalled would be almost certain to spur a strike by the 34,000-member Transport Workers Union whose leaders have vowed they will never accept arbitration.

TWU president Roger Toussaint announced early this morning that he would launch a mini-strike this evening against two Queens bus lines whose 750 employees have been without a contract for three years and who are not subject to the state's draconian Taylor laws which forbid strikes by public workers.

But Toussaint put the threat of a citywide strike on hold until 12:01 A.M. Tuesday morning. Toussaint added at a press conference Friday morning that his union was prepared to bargain in the interim, setting the stage for talks through the weekend. According to a union source, that offer was premised on an agreement made by MTA officials to union negotiators this morning that they were prepared to talk until a deal was done.

But Kalikow's take-it-or-leave it statement suggests that the MTA once again is planning to play hardball. It is not clear whether Governor Pataki, who controls the panel, has made any personal effort yet to help bring the two sides together. Pataki, who travelled to New Hampshire yesterday as part of his effort to launch a 2008 presidential campaign, has been criticized by both the union and several local city elected officials for his hands-off attitude towards the talks.


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