The PG covers the machinations that ended the 1992 Port Authority strike
. By focusing on the judicial involvement that ended that strike, it certainly leads the reader to think that there will again be legal involvement that could come into play. I am just not sure the circumstances are similar enough to really compare the two situations as directly as the paper does. So here is some non-lawyerly legal musings over what the legal differences are between then and now and what they may mean.:
In the PG story, local lawyer-politico Joe Mistick ends with a comment implying that the city ought to be preparing now to engage as Mayor Masloff did at the time. But there is a big difference. I am pretty sure a judge wouldn’t order workers to work against their wishes with a contract imposed unilaterally by management. In 1992, a judge ordered workers back to work, but the difference was they went back to work under their previous contract which they may not have liked.. but it was at least a contract they did once approve. It just seems to me that any legally imposed end to a as-yet-nonexistent work stoppage (pick your noun to describe it) would have to be under the currently extant contract… not the contract to be imposed next week.
Then the funny thing to think about is that if the current contract was not about to be abrogated, it seems pretty clear the drivers were not about to strike..... much to the consternation of the Port Authority itself. Think back to all the PR spin you heard that there was going to be a strike once the factfinders report was rejected by the union. That didn’t happen now did it. Was it going to happen? Not much evidence that it was. It’s hard not to get past the conclusion that the imposed contract is first and foremost a means to force the drivers into something that the public will perceive as a strike. If the goal was to keep the system operating at least through Christmas, why would you ‘impose’ a contract Dec. 1.
Let’s also go back to 1992 to see how the factfinders report played into the negotiations. I am reminded that just recently the argument was made that it was the union that was going against the will of the public by rejecting the factfinders report while the reasonable Port Authority management accepted it. Any work stoppage it was argued, would thus be the fault of the union the argument went. Yet what happened in 1992? Rarely mentioned is the fact that back then the union accepted the factfinder’s report and it was Port Authority management that rejected the factfinder's report
. So using the same logic, was the Port Authority management in 1992 the one that is responsible for the 28 day strike which was (and still is) the longest public transit stoppage here in recent decades? If you then take that logic just a bit farther... read the Post Gazette article again and see its theme that it was the convoluted ending of the 1992 strike that has lead to the lack of progress in labor issues in the following 16 years and the situation the system finds it in right now. So again, who is at fault for the current sad state of labor management relations at the Port Authority? Consider what if the Port Authority had accepted the factfinders report in 1992. There would have been no strike at the time... there would have been no history of a strike of more than a few days in the entire history of the Port Authority. Earlier strikes had been 3 days in wildcat strike in 1971, for 7 days in 1973, 5 days in 1976 .. That would have left in place a strong precedent for the future.
But looking to our current situation again… counterintuitive as it seems, I just wonder if the last thing the Port Authority would really want to happen is some litigation by the city or somebody else as Mayor Masloff did to end a work stoppage. If that process leads to a return to the previous contract terms then the Port Authority winds up worse than it did to begin with, not only stuck with the old contract but with some legal support for it as well. At the very least it would be a crack in the PR machine that thus far has been swamping the drivers in the public debate is it doesn’t exist.
If that isn’t the way it plays out, consider the alternative. If a local judge were to really force workers to work under a contract imposed completely by management without any cooperation by workers, it would truly be an unprecedented event in labor-management relations in the US. If such a thing were to happen in Pittsburgh of all places it would be a pretty seminal event. Thus I bet why the AFL/CIO is showing such unusual interest in the situation here now.
My guess as to what will happen in the near term is less than a guess. What is going on now in DC is just a big wildcard to me. If nothing comes out of that I go back to the Trib story that really points out how legally tenuous
the Port Authority's imposed contract really is. If the drivers can go to court to have the imposed contract tossed they certainly will. The question that I leave to the legal beagles is whether they have to literally be off work to have a claim in court. If they show up at work under the 'imposed' contract will they forfeit their rights in some way. I suspect that is the situation the drivers are forced into at the moment in some form. That again leads to the conclusion that the goal here is more to force the drivers to walk out than anything else. It would be a different case if the legal case were stronger. That and what options does a union have to an 'imposed' contract. If that is left standing then unions might as well fold up shop all around. Not much need for unions if that becomes the paradigm for labor-management relations.
But what is going on in DC?
I really have no idea right now. What could be the result if anything? If the AFL/CIO were to come out against the drivers then obviously they would be a much more tenuous position going forward. But if the AFL/CIO throws its own weight against the Port Authority then its hard to say what the impact would be? But the Port Authority has raised this to a bigger issue than a local transit funding issue by potentially making it a symbol for unions across the country. Imagine if folks all over started 'imposing' contracts.
Last comment that occurs to me. The whole basis of the Port Authority claiming that they can impose a contract on the drivers rests supposedly on their being an impasse in the negotiations. I don't see how you can claim that is the case if you are travelling to DC to have meetings with the AFL/CIO on the situation. Sure seems to me that the Port Authority has thrown away the ability to claim there is an impasse if these meetings with the AFL/CIO really took place. If that logic is valid, that means there is no basis at all legally for them to try and impose a contract. But that is trying to apply logic to the law which my lawyer friends tell me is a fool's game.