More fallout from the MTA/TWU arbitration decisionBy
As I reported late last night, a labor arbitrator yesterday sided with the transit union in its contract dispute with the MTA. Because of this decision, transit union workers will earn raises totaling 11 percent over the next three years, and the MTA will be scrambling to cover another $350-$400 million in unanticipated costs.
As other city unions have earned similar raises in recent months, it may have been foolish for the MTA to omit consideration of possible union raises. The MTA, however, is in a far different economic situation than the rest of the city. The agency is struggling to stay afloat and shouldn’t have been required to give its workers raises if it can’t afford to. After all, I, as a private sector employee, don’t expect substantial raises over the next few years if my company is struggling financially.
Meanwhile, the fallout from this arbitration decision extends well beyond economics and potential fare hikes. As The Times’ Michael Grynbaum reports, because of a bad negotiating tactic, the MTA won’t be able to implement one-person train operations until at least 2012. He writes:
During contract talks, the agency dropped its demand for one-person train operation, instead of two, thinking that Transport Workers Union Local 100 would make health care concessions in return. But an arbitration panel has found there had been “no evidence” of a quid pro quo — handing a victory to the workers, who had been seeking to limit their health care contributions.
Establishing one-person train operation has been a major goal of New York City Transit for more than a decade. Using one-person crews would save millions in labor costs, and the agency, which wanted to start the program on the No. 7 and L lines, has already invested in new compatible subway cars.
The program has been held up by objections from the union, which stood to lose jobs and wages, and from rider advocates concerned about security.
That is a prime example of the union standing in the way of both technological progress and economic trimming. The MTA is a bloated agency, but as long as the union refuses to compromise on staffing levels, upper management will as well. This is a stand-off that won’t end well for straphangers.
Meanwhile, as long-time SAS reader Larry Littlefield noted in the comments earlier today, the arbitrator’s ruling may have a bigger impact on the MTA than we realize. As Grynbaum reported, “The arbitration panel said the authority could use federal stimulus funds and money from its capital program to make up any shortfall in its operating budget.”
Littlefield believes that this could be damaging to the MTA’s future capital plans and its need and ability to separate the operating budget from its capital expenditures. “If the capital program can be diverted to operating costs, and it is borrowed money, therefore, the operating budget is unlimited with no effect on taxpayers,” he wrote. “Anyone here going to be thrilled with all the innovative studies by consultants over the next couple of decade, as the system decays and no improvements are built? Anyone even mentioning proposals for improved service shows they are willing to go along, and be unpleasantly surprised down the road, blaming future leaders.”
The Daily News’ editorial board slammed arbitrator John Zuccotti for siding with the union in a time of grave economic troubles for the MTA. The Post blames Bloomberg for overly generous payouts to other city unions. I’m still waiting on a comment from the TWU’s spokespeople, but in the end, the fare-paying public will have to pay. Higher fares and unnecessary employees will mar the forward progress of the subway system. The MTA is to blame; the TWU is to blame. What a mess.