MTA Contract Talks With Union Delayed

The MTA and its main union have canceled a bargaining session ten days before their labor contract is set to expire.

Union leaders and the MTA were supposed to hold their first face to face talks on Thursday. But now the meeting will not likely happen until after MTA executive director Joe Lhota has his confirmation hearing before the State Senate on Monday.

Lhota is expected to be confirmed as chairman and CEO of the MTA. That should put him in a better position to strike a deal with Transport Workers Union Local 100 President John Samuelson.

Both sides said preliminary talks have gone well. Gone is the animosity that Samuelson, a track worker, felt toward former MTA chief Jay Walder. One union official described that problematic relationship this way: "Walder condescended to John, like he still had steel dust under his fingertips. But John feels Lhota is genuine and honest."

At least that's the feeling for now.

The two sides will have some tough issues to agree on during the talks, such as having any pay raises over the next three years offset by measurable productivity gains or benefit cuts. Another issue likely to come up is the MTA asking the TWU to allow a combining of train conductor and operator jobs. New hires would be trained to do both jobs, allowing the authority to pay fewer workers to stand by in reserve in case an operator or conductor must miss work due to sickness or other reasons.

These are just a couple of the many issues to be worked out in a negotiation that has begun well but neither side expects to be easy.