The tentative Transport Workers Union  Local 100 contract may have gotten done after months of angry rhetoric and stop-and-start negotiations because two respected professionals came to the bargaining table while a less-helpful voice was tuned out. 

That static came from Larry Schwartz, Governor Cuomo’s enforcer at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board. It was his scattershot criticism last spring of overtime abuses—quickly echoed by the Governor—that ignited much of the acrimony. 

The MTA has had two separate issues pertaining to high overtime this year. One concerned what sounded like rampant abuse by a small number of Long Island Rail Road employees, the other a $418-million spike in overtime at New York City Transit that was largely the result of a management decision not to hire all 2,000 workers it originally planned for its emergency action plan but rather bring on 800 and get the rest of the work done using employees on overtime. 

Mr. Schwartz, offering no differentiation between the two, made some heated remarks about sending the abusers to prison. That would’ve been enough to get tempers raised at Local 100, especially when the Governor made comments somewhat less incendiary but no more insightful. But they came at a time when transit workers were already being abused by some riders, particularly in the subways, and union officials were convinced that an escalation of the harassment was partly a reaction to the accusatory words of Mr. Schwartz and his boss. Along the way, a long alliance between Mr. Cuomo and Transport Workers Union International President John Samuelsen seemed to suffer a rupture. 

There were also dust-ups pitting Mr. Samuelsen and TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano against MTA Chairman Patrick Foye, who on one occasion sent a harsh email to Mr. Utano accusing him of proposing a “specialty-drug scam” that if adopted would hurt both union members and the MTA. Mr. Foye seemed not to have learned the virtues of being the strong, silent type of negotiator who rather than picking public fights disposes of what he or she considers an unappetizing offer by saying, “No thanks.” 

There was an angry union demonstration outside MTA headquarters in late October in which Mr. Foye was harshly denounced, and just 15 days later, a reaching-out by Mr. Utano to resume bargaining with the man he’d previously called a roadblock to getting a settlement. Those talks blew up on their third day, just as the two sides were about to mark six months since the May 15 expiration of the Local 100 contract. They got back together early this month, and this time tempers stayed under wraps and by Dec. 4 a deal was reached. 

One helpful presence was that of NYC Transit President Andy Byford, whom union officials and the rank and file respect for his low-key smarts and, perhaps, his willingness to disagree with the Governor when he believes he is overstepping. The other, we are told, was Martin Scheinman, the veteran arbitrator and mediator with a knack for getting the parties to focus on what each side needs and then reach compromises that produce mutual satisfaction. 

Given Mr. Scheinman’s assistance in getting several major municipal-union settlements over the past half-dozen years, starting with the 2014 United Federation of Teachers contract, our guess is he had a hand in the portions of the deal covering health benefits. Local 100 came away pleased that there were no increases in members’ payroll deductions and it was able to improve dental coverage, including up to $1,000 toward the cost of implants. The MTA got a hike in emergency-room co-pays and those for prescription drugs, which are designed to give union members incentives to rely on primary-care doctors and storefront clinics rather than going to hospitals, and purchase generic equivalents to name-brand drugs. 

Those changes were features of the contracts the de Blasio administration negotiated with its unions to offset the cost of wage hikes; the MTA said it would save about $27 million annually, a bit less than the cost of a 1-percent raise in a contract that provides 9.8 percent in raises over its four-year length.    

There is also what Mr. Foye described as a first-ever gain-sharing agreement with Local 100 under which it will get a piece of the savings from a program meant to address his concerns about days missed by transit workers that require their places to be taken by colleagues on overtime. The union has agreed to help get “availability” up by an average of 1 ½ days per worker, with the MTA to pocket the full savings from the first day and the two sides to split them for the extra half-day and any time beyond that.  

What form the union’s end of the savings will take may require further discussion, but it offers an incentive for better labor/management cooperation. 

No joint press conference was held to announce the deal, which may be a sign that some tensions remain. But the quick move from threats and angry rhetoric to a contract that helps both sides is a big step forward.    

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