Supporting TWU-100

My father is a union electrician, and his local and international (IBEW) have gone to the mats several times to protect union solidarity. At the same time, I know that his local has agreed to take hits in order to protect solidarity. Contract negoatiations are always a tough time for the union because you’ll have naturally divergent interest groups; young, childless workers usually want to see more cash in their take home, while older workers with families tend to like to see better healthcare and other non-cash benefits. These are tough internal arguments. However if the promise is kept that all union members will be treated equally as they move through their lifespan, the agreements are much easier to keep in house.

I have been lucky that my family has been a member of a very strong union despite none of us being able to hit or throw a curveball. That union has paid for a disproportionate amount of healthcare for myself and my siblings, made sure that my parents can eventually retire in dignity, and helped my family out when times were tough. Yes, there are times when walking away from the union, such as during the boom years would give my family a little more short term cash as we would not be paying into the funds that helped us out when times were tough or we were in particular need, but solidarity and self-interest in maintaining our membership in a strong union won out.

I am happy to support the union members of Transit Workers Union 100 in their strike against the MTA. The strike is not a quibble over $20 million dollars in pension payments over three years, although that is the most visible difference. Instead it is about a union that wishes to maintain internal solidarity and thus future strength in future negoatiations while the MTA and the city by extension is seeking to weaken the union by divide and conquer techniques.

If the final best offer by the MTA, which included dropping the demand to raise the retirement age, increased wage proposals and not including healthcare co-pays, was heavily dependent on finding an additional twenty million dollars for pension funding, there would have been an extremely simple way of getting that concession; increasing the pension contribution from 2.0% per worker to 2.3% or 2.4% or whatever the hell the actuaries have determined is needed to raise X amounts of funds. Union members, like anyone else, would prefer that someone else pick up costs, but this would be a part of normal talks and negoatiations.

Instead the divide and conquer strategy of creating a two tier worked force was utilized. It is not about money. This is an action over power. If the union agreed to create a two tiered workforce, it creates incentives for tensions and weaker collective action, thus weakening their coordination ability. The old guys who are grandfathered in will receive less support from the new hires who are second class union members when the promised healthcare benefits are threatened in retirement or work rules change that mainly effect people whose bodies are not quite in the shape that they were when they were 27. A divided union is no longer a union that can effectively represent all of its members.

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