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MTA takes hard line in new offer to transit workers union

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in an attempt to persuade transit workers to agree to arbitration, has come up with a new contract proposal less palatable than the one the TWU members narrowly turned down.

"Most everything that was taken off is back on the table" was the way MTA chief spokesman Tom Kelly described the MTA's new proposal.

Some labor observers suggested the MTA ploy might leave the workers little alternative short of another strike following the three-walkout that began Dec. 20.

The MTA provided elements of the new proposal in an application to the state Public Employees Relations Board, which it asked to provide an arbitration committee. The panel would listen to arguments from both sides and rule on what should be in the contract. There would be no vote by transit workers.

It appeared most of the parts of the contract which Transport Workers Union Local 100 defeated by a seven-vote margin were restored.

One of the elements most reviled in the rejected contract provided that workers pay 1.5 percent of their wages for health care. It was retained in the new proposal.

Items the MTA had agreed to drop during negotiations with the union before a tentative agreement was reached and now back in its latest offer include:

- Subway booth clerks could be assigned to janitorial duties and other tasks in addition to regular work.

- Changes in rules governing bus drivers that could interfere with seniority among employees.

- The MTA would be given the right to remove conductors from subway trains, something now precluded by the former union contract and upheld by courts.

- Newly hired employees would pay 6 percent of wages toward health insurance.

- The holiday on Martin Luther King's birthday would be removed from the new contract, which would run 39 rather than 37 months.

- The MTA's new offer removes a provision for pension refunds for some 20,000 workers who overpaid into pension funds. Gov. George Pataki had criticized that provision and even threatened to veto it.

- Pay provisions remain the same with raises of 10.5 over the three-year contract, which would end in March and thus presumably inflict less of a hardship on straphangers who might escape the harshest winter weather in the event of a walkout.

- For its part, the Transit Workers Union, has steadfastly vowed that it would not agree to arbitration.

- Ed Watt, TWU secretary-treasurer, said Wednesday that a second strike did not seem near but declined to rule out anything.

- The transit system's strike by 33,700 workers was the first in 25 years and left the city's millions of straphangers to find alternate ways to work. Some estimates of its cost to the city came to $1 billion.

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