MTA, Transit Workers Union talks heat up as contract expires

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- There are more than 8 million rides every day on New York City subways and buses, but the contract for nearly 40,000 MTA workers who operate and maintain the system expired Wednesday night.

In hopes of avoiding a strike, there were intense last-minute negotiations underway.

Transit Authority President Andy Byford refused to discuss the talks after meeting for just under two hours with union leaders on the ninth floor of TWU headquarters in Downtown Brooklyn.

The union contract expired for all 38,000 subway and bus workers in America's largest transit system.

The main issues are wages, pension and health benefits, but it all comes amid rising tensions at the MTA and accusations of widespread overtime abuse.

"If anyone steals money, they deserve to be punished," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said. "And they deserve nothing less."

Union leadership angrily denies the allegations. When board member Larry Schwartz demanded an independent investigation last week, the union's international president hit back hard.

A strike would be illegal, but it's happened before.

Transit workers walked off their jobs for roughly three days in 2005, and as a result, the Local 100 president was sentenced to 10 days in jail and the union suffered heavy fines and lost its dues check-off.

The current contract terms will remain until a new contract is reached, and workers say they don't expect a strike.

But they don't expect a quick settlement, either.

Local 100 President Tony Utano released the following report to the membership after main table discussions with the MTA:

"We met with the MTA today on main table discussions. We did not reach an agreement on a new contract, and quite frankly we are not close to a negotiated settlement. Our agreement with the MTA expires at midnight tonight. I have scheduled a Local 100 Executive Board meeting for tomorrow to present a full report. Under New York State law, our current agreement remains in effect. Management cannot change it in any way. To date, MTA Chair and CEO Pat Foye has not attended any meetings. My message to him is to get serious and start bargaining in good faith. This isn't that complicated. Transit workers are on the job under the worst of conditions. We have contributed mightily to better service and more reliable on time performance as a result of the Subway Action Plan. We are increasingly the target of criminal assault in the subways and on the buses. Through it all, we continue to deliver New York City's most essential public service, and we do it 24 hours a day 7 days a week. We expect to be recognized for our efforts with a fair contract."

MTA Chief External Affairs Officer Maxwell Young released the following statement:

"Chairman Foye is in Washington DC today seeking funding for the MTA, as he informed Commissioner Samuelson on Monday, when the union requested this meeting for this particular day and time. The MTA had New York City Transit's top two officials present - MTA Managing Director Hakim and NYCT President Byford. The negotiations are ongoing."

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