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New head of the MTA begins contract talks with transit union

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WNYC's Jim O'Grady has a report up on the contract talks that have begun between the MTA and the transit union. Things appear to be starting on a better foot between the new MTA chief, Joe Lhota, and the union.

Negotiations began with addresses by [Transport Workers Union Local 100 president John] Samuelsen and MTA executive Joe Lhota to a conference room packed with TWU members. Lhota started with a compliment: "My first message to you is that I know the MTA employees are our most valuable resource."

The remark was in some ways pro forma. But its reception by the workers — hearty roars filled the room — seemed to signal something new between the authority and the union: a measure of mutual respect. Samuelson said he never felt that from Lhota's predecessor, Jay Walder, who fought with the union and laid off 1,000 workers in 2009. When Walder announced his resignation this past July, the TWU constructed its official reaction around the phrase "good riddance."

Lhota, who started on Monday, shrewdly made his first act in office to join the union's call for aggressive prosecution of attacks on bus drivers. The union says someone assaults a bus driver an average of three times a week in New York. Lhota reiterated the stance at the Sheraton, to more applause. He then switched to the matter at hand and declared, "As we begin the collective bargaining process, you have my commitment that the MTA will listen to your demands and that we will negotiate in good faith."

It's assumed TWU will be asked for the same sort of wage freeze other unions throughout the state have been accepting. Samuelson has said his union will fight the freezes.