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TWU Local 100 battles MTA over benefit

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 9/21/2011, 4:36 p.m.

Another year, another struggle between transit workers and the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

According to Transit Workers Union (TWU) Local 100, workers are fighting the MTA to recover diminished health care benefits due to a change in insurance carriers at the beginning of this year. The process began with a Local-wide grievance hearing last week that included Local 100 President John Samuelsen, Vice President Tony Utano, general counsel Larry Cary, contract arbitrator Richard Adelman and various union officers and attorneys.

After presenting opening arguments, Adelman adjourned the meeting and told the parties to seek the expertise of a health benefits expert to review the union's claim that insurance benefits under the new carriers are not equal to the old carrier, as required by their current contract. The arbitrator told all parties that Sept. 30 should be the deadline that Local 100 and the MTA use in order to mutually agree to an impartial expert.

But the union is already on the MTA's trail.

Last week, the New York Daily News reported that about 50 transit workers and union leaders stormed into an MTA office building in downtown Brooklyn for a quick protest over wages and benefits. Led by Samuelsen, union members said that transit workers suffered during the transition of health insurance benefits (from GHI and HIP to Empire Blue Cross, United Care and Aetna) on Jan. 1, while MTA executives benefited from "gold-plated" coverage. Members of TWU Local 100 told the Daily News that they planned on carrying out various surprise protests over the course of the next couple of months.

"We're not even in contract negotiations and we're already under attack," Samuelsen said. "They've broken promises on health care. TWU will fight back."

Samuelsen said transit workers were "nickeled and dimed" by the MTA. According to the union, many members found themselves cut off from health care entirely for a period of time after the switch to a new carrier and saw prescription drug costs increase.

A spokesperson from the MTA told the AmNews that they haven't issued an official response to the impromptu protest.