Nov
12

Facing tough times, transit unions come under fire

By

ATUTWU200 Over the last few months, the MTA’s generally tenuous relationship with its union workers — and in particular, the Transport Workers Union — has become strained, and it’s starting to fray. The trouble started when an arbitration panel awarded the TWU 11 percent in raises over the next three years, and although the process was called “binding arbitration,” the MTA could legally appeal the decision on certain grounds. When the agency opted for this path, labor peace started to deteriorate, and things are slowly coming to a head.

We start first with a non-TWU story and with a follow up to last week’s tragic accident that left a pedestrian dead after getting struck by a bus while he was cross the street. On Tuesday, I reported that this bus driver had been suspended for texting behind the wheel. Protests by the Amalgamated Transit Union, though, led to a simple suspension.

Yesterday, the Daily News added a shocking twist to this sad story. The driver had been posting nasty notes about passengers on his Facebook page. According to the report, these notes were about “killing, committing suicide and beating people.” Now, the MTA Inspector General Barry Kluger has initiated a probe to find out why Transit did not initiate a psychological evaluation of Jeremy Philhower and why the agency faced such fierce resistance when they it tried to dismiss this driver. This accident — seemingly avoidable — should lead to a change in the way these cases are handled by both the unions and the MTA.

Next, we arrive at an Op-Ed by Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute. She takes the MTA to task for its role the TWU arbitration process:

Arbitration likely was a ruse, although we don’t know for sure. We can guess that neither Gov. Paterson nor the MTA thought that awarding huge raises would fly publicly, especially when the MTA needed a multibillion-dollar bailout.

But nobody wanted to annoy the TWU. It seems likely that the arbitrators were brought in to insulate the pols from public anger. Just two weeks ago, Paterson maintained this fiction, saying that, though “we don’t have the money,” the arbitrators “probably made the correct ruling technically.”

And the MTA wasn’t exactly careful, on behalf of the taxpayers, to assure a pristine process. It was almost unbelievably outrageous, as we learned long after the fact, that the “indepen dent” arbitrator on the three-man panel — former Deputy Mayor John Zuccotti, who represented the public — agreed, with the MTA’s support, to fork over his $116,000 “fee” to a TWU-controlled charity.

That is, the MTA used a supposedly independent process to wash a payment back to its “adversary” in the arbitration.

Gelinas calls for the state legislature to fix the way the MTA negotiates with its unions. She wants to see an end to what she terms “backroom deals,” and she wants the authority, going through some lean economic times, to be able to exert pressure on the unions to get more out of their workers. The politics of Gelinas’ Manhattan Institute may be more to the right than those of many New Yorkers, but she raises some questions here for the MTA that need to be aired.

Finally, with the MTA Board set to meet next Wednesday, the TWU will host another Day of Outrage protest in front of MTA headquarters. Meanwhile, the Union has appealed to the U.N.’s International Labor Organization in an effort to get New York State’s anti-strike Taylor Law repealed. Although the United Nation’s labor commission has no binding authority over New York state law, a statement against the Taylor could, in the words of one labor expert, “influence decisions by local lawmakers.”

I get the sense that, if the law allowed them to do so, the city’s transit unions would be on the verge of a strike. As the MTA’s appeal continues, as cost-cutting measures come into play, these labor wars will only grow more acrimonious.



Categories : ATU, TWU

24 Responses to “Facing tough times, transit unions come under fire”

  1. paulb says:

    To the TWU: Please, oh please, strike. If you do, maybe the mayor will have the guts to do something he apparently was afraid to do in 2006: fire every one of you and break the union.

  2. petey says:

    “The politics of Gelinas’ Manhattan Institute may be more to the right than those of many New Yorkers”
    the politics of gelinas’ manhattan institute are total corporatist propaganda, let’s just say.

  3. Niccolo Machivelli says:

    The platform you continue to give Ms. Gelinas and the anti-worker, anti-government positions of her employer only serves to drive a wedge between the workers at the MTA and the community it serves. You know absolutely nothing about collective bargaining yet insist that negotiations be held in the open as if in some sort of combination of A Crazy Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Monty Pythons Holy Grail. The substantial layer of distrust between the parties, mined by both the right-wing Post and Daily News on one side and the militants in the union on the other, is what makes it hard to make a deal. What happened here was that Mayor Bloomberg scuttled a tentative agreement and it the dispute was taken to arbitration. This blog sat by in exquisite silence while Mayor Big Bucks gave away 4% increases to the other city unions well after the economy melted down. That he wouldn’t do the same for the Transit Authority employees is what drove the arbitration and no amount of moaning from the peanut gallery will change that situation. The permanent government in the MTA wrote the numbers you and Ms. Gelinas seem to think are written in stone as what the MTA is “able to pay” long before the economy hit the skids, when Bloomberg paid much more to DC37 etc. in a fit of pre-election largesse the ability to pay piece went out the window, to do less showed the bad faith in negotiation.
    And as to how shocked you are at the Widows and Orphans Fund being the chosen charity by Mr. Zucotti, just where do you think all those widows and orphans came from?

    • And here we go:

      The platform you continue to give Ms. Gelinas and the anti-worker, anti-government positions of her employer only serves to drive a wedge between the workers at the MTA and the community it serves.

      Just because people disagree with MI’s platform or their positions doesn’t make them any less valid. They have some bad points and they have some good points. I’m not going to ignore it because some people don’t like hearing what she has to say.

      You know absolutely nothing about collective bargaining yet insist that negotiations be held in the open.

      Besides the fact that the first part of your sentence just isn’t true, I’m n the one advocating for open negotiations; Gelinas is. It’s debatable as to whether negotiations more transparent than they currently are would actually be all that bad.

      What happened here was that Mayor Bloomberg scuttled a tentative agreement and it the dispute was taken to arbitration. This blog sat by in exquisite silence while Mayor Big Bucks gave away 4% increases to the other city unions well after the economy melted down.

      Bloomberg’s actions in regards to city unions, and the state-backed MTA’s actions in regards to its unions are not quite comparable. Bloomberg hasn’t scuttled anything. In fact, he’s stayed relatively quiet on this matter offering tacit support to the MTA but no real public statements either way. This blog say by in “exquisite silence” because it’s not a blog about other unions; it’s a blog about transit issues in New York. Those other unions shouldn’t have gotten free giveaways either without more concessions. We’ll see what happens with the teachers union now.

      And as to how shocked you are at the Widows and Orphans Fund being the chosen charity by Mr. Zucotti, just where do you think all those widows and orphans came from?

      I’m not shocked with the specific charity. It’s surprising to see a supposedly neutral arbitrator give his fee to a charity supporting one of the sides of the case. In legal terms, that’s a conflict of interests. I’m not denying that the Widows and Orphans Fund shouldn’t be funded. This particularly process however is flawed.

      ***

      Just to close: I’m not anti-union. There’s certainly a need for collective bargaining and there’s certainly a need for certain extractions from the MTA. But the reality is that the transit authority can’t be held hostage fiscally to its workers just because other city unions got raises. That might make sense in the world of organized labor, but it doesn’t make sense right now all things considered.

    • Evan says:

      not to be nitpicky but it’s actually “A FUNNY Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum”. Unless you were making a point by saying crazy…if so apologies.

  4. Nicole Gelinas says:

    The real “corporatist” view would mean mindless union support. Corporations that largely depend on government for various favors are never very skeptical about labor costs.

    I am not anti-union. It is funny that the people who dismiss my articles never actually address any of the points in those articles.

    Simply put, TWU workers in NYC are by no means underpaid in terms of salary. The average cash takehome is $64k+, plus lucrative benefits that add another 10k to that annually, minimum (this comes from the arbitration report).

    I have never called for wage reductions for skilled workers, which would be short-sighted and foolish. I have instead called for reasonable and lasting healthcare and pension reform, as well as work-rules reform, so that such benefits are also more in line with what the private-sector workers — who pay for the MTA and use it — can expect in their own lives.

    And, for unskilled work, like retail-level token clerks, the public would rather see clerks who are paid $12 an hour than no clerk at all, because the fixed cost is $24 an hour plus benefits. Unfortunately, the MTA has to choose the latter becuase of its lack of flexibility. To pay double, plus, for retail-level work, is not good government management, and it carries a real public cost.

    Finally, workers should not expect raises in this economic environment — period. Whatever the city does with the teachers — the same rule should apply. I focus on the TWU because I care about transit, but saying that everyone else got something is no excuse for profligacy here; it’s just political distraction.

    Ironically, it is the union that is anti-union, because its unwillingness to bow to reality hurts any public support it may have.

    Overal the long term, nobody can seriously claim to be a transit advocate and not address these issues. Unreformed labor costs mean that money that should go into capital spending — to improve transit — is instead going to pension and benefit costs. And the public does not support more transit investment because it knows that it is just paying for benefits that are no longer available anywhere else. Unreformed labor means that we will forever be stuck with bad transit. Support for transit is not the same as mindless support for the TWU.

    And yes, lots of individual transit workers do a great job, and don’t agree with everything their union says or does.

    • petey says:

      “I am not anti-union.”

      however …

      “Simply put, TWU workers in NYC are by no means underpaid in terms of salary. The average cash takehome is $64k+, plus lucrative benefits that add another 10k to that annually, minimum (this comes from the arbitration report).”

      and just who is to decide what constitutes “underpayment”? the elitists of the manhattan institute? apprently! they are inside the minds of the people it seems:

      “the public would rather see clerks who …”

      have you asked this public of which you speak? you certainly didn’t ask me. stick around, you might meet some other members of the public here whom you didn’t ask.

      “I have instead called for reasonable and lasting healthcare and pension reform, as well as work-rules reform, so that such benefits are also more in line with what the private-sector workers — who pay for the MTA and use it — can expect in their own lives.”

      “reasonable” reform … ah – that’s the ticket. and which private-sector workers are these to whom you are comparing the transit workers? better that workers in the private sector could look forward to the benefits that public sector workers, who get those private sector workers to their jobs and on whom the corporations depend for their daily business, can expect in their own lives.

      “workers should not expect …”

      not anti-union, just dictating to workers what they “should” expect.

      yes, the omniscient corporate apologist.

    • Nicole Gelinas says:

      “and just who is to decide what constitutes “underpayment”? the elitists of the manhattan institute? apprently! they are inside the minds of the people it seems:”

      No, the market decides, by the fact that the MTA already gets many qualified applicants for each open job. When the MTA can longer do so, that means that it is not paying enough.

      And, to the other commenter, yes “takehome” was imprecise. I was referring to cash wages and overtime — before taxes. I used the word only to denote a different between the cash compensation and other intangible benefits like healthcare, not to mean post-tax. Apologies for that. It is pre-tax.

  5. Nicole Gelinas says:

    One more thing: as for knowing “nothing” about collective bargaining — well, their “expert” secret way doesn’t seem to be working very well!

  6. Robert Wechsler says:

    Ms. Gelinas: Please tell me how the, “the average cash takehome is $64k+,” was calculated.

    The top hourly NYCTA rate for bus drivers and train operators (the largest job titles) is $26.93. Multiply this by 2080 (52weeksx40hours) and you get $56,014. That is not take home pay. Take out the double or triple income tax that most NYCTA employees pay and you get less; a lot less. And not everyone earns top rate. Yes we know that some workers earn overtime but most do not earn it regularly enough to change these figures.

  7. Abba says:

    Benjamin,do you think in reality there will be a strike?

  8. Niccolo Machivelli says:

    If we are waiting for a “neutral” settlement that is acceptable to Ms. Gelinas it will be a very long wait. Perhaps Ben and she have a successful Labor Relations consulting business on the side for all I know. I’m just guessing it will be a cold day in hell before any union chooses her, or you, as a neutral in any arbitration proceeding.

    Reform to the Manhattan Institute means nothing more ore less than cuts in wages, hours and conditions of employment for government workers and the authority equivalents in the MTA, PA, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

    As to work rules, the TWU and TA management had valuable work rules on the table before Bloomberg killed a deal agreeable to both parties. One reason he probably killed it is from fear of criticism from the well-healed “think tank” (tax-exempt) over at the Manhattan Institute and Rupert Murdoch’s loss-leader over at the Post. You’ll have to ask his people if you really care. Anyway, the neutral dropped the rules (OPTO, etc.) from the deal and gave the TWU the same numbers, probably since Bloomberg’s LR people got no valuable rules from DC37. That’s one of the problems with arbitration and why you are better off making a deal with your adversary (partner). “There is no traitor like an arbitrator”.

    Had they made a deal though, and won some rules from TWU, you and Ms. Gelinas still would have cried. Congratulations, now you got the numbers and no rules.

    Nonetheless, arbitration is one of the touchstones of the Taylor Law that you clubbed TWU with the previous round. Even if the MTA wins the appeal it will be a Pyrrhic victory as the Taylor Law will be smoldering in the bushes waiting for what the Manhattan Institute really wants which is a full-blown labor war against the public sector unions in NY. And, even if you win, you will be held the permanent enemy of the transit workers. Maybe that is OK with you, after all you live off of the largesse of your loyal readership, but those that have to send people off to difficult assignments every day will probably feel a lot different about it. And the managers who supervise the union workforce will probably have their wages and benefits diminished accordingly.

    And re: “It’s debatable as to whether negotiations more transparent than they currently are would actually be all that bad.” What do you have in mind? Sort of an ESPN, instant replay, media-centric, open-sourced, let the bloggers approve of it system? Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean that the process was flawed.

    The chief difference between this blog and the Post is that you can’t line your bird cage with this blog.

    • The chief difference between this blog and the Post is that you can’t line your bird cage with this blog.

      Feel free to print it out if you wish. You’re anonymously attacking an ideology with which you disagree and are hardly offering up your own points other than “It’s Bloomberg’s fault” and “Look how the other unions did it.” You’re very good at cutting down someone personally based on ideology, but please give me a rational reason why the unions should be given these raises at a time when the MTA can lease afford it. I’m willing to change my mind about that if you can convince me otherwise.

      As for your statements about the Taylor Law, take a look at this explanation of binding arbitration. A binding arbitration can be appealed on grounds of “unconscionability,” and the unconscionable sections can either be severed or the entire deal struck down. Furthermore, if the appeals court sides with the arbitration ruling, the MTA will have no choice but to adhere to it. That’s the way our justice system works, and the TWU has been organizing protests against a legally permissible procedural and legal move by the MTA. Nothing will be smoldering in the bushes.

      Furthermore, no one will have their wages and benefits diminished. That just doesn’t happen with collective bargaining. If the arbitration award is overturned, the two parties will end up back at the table faced with the reality of negotiating a deal that better reflects the MTA’s economic reality and ability to pay their workers without cutting service.

  9. Working Class says:

    Why is it that the NYPD, NYFD, Teachers, Sanitation, Corrections, DC-37, and almost every other union can negotiate there contracts in private but the TWU isn’t allowed to do the same? Bloomberg recently said about the teachers that the negotiations are private!

    • They shouldn’t either. These negotiation processes should be public, but as I said before, this isn’t a labor relations blog. It’s an MTA blog. What those other unions do doesn’t concern me that much for purposes of writing here.

  10. Niccolo Machivelli says:

    “this isn’t a labor relations blog. It’s an MTA blog”
    From your lips to God’s ears.

    There is no public negotiations, anywhere, anytime. There is only negotiations based on trust and negotiations based on power. Take your pick. In this case, you and the mediocracy do not trust who you have sent forth as a negotiation representative. Thats your problem, work it out. The union has to trust who they send forth. Thats what representatives do, they represent.

    I’m someone who looks to make a deal instead of looking for confrontation. Some parties on both sides get more juice out of the confrontation than they do constructing a good deal. The Post is sort of like Will Rogers in reverse, they never saw a deal they liked. My objection is to you feeding the confrontation-hungry labor warriors over at the Manhattan Institute and treating them as if they were transportation advocates. All you have really made a case for is funding mass transit by cutting workers wages and benefits. That won’t go very far.

    My advice is to try to build social capital between workers, management, consultants, contractors and commuters. That endeavor has been driven into the bush by those that value confrontation. And this blog, is throwing fuel on the fire.

  11. Anon says:

    The likelihood that this gets overturned is zero to none. Gelinas calls arbitration a ruse? Well certainly it’s a strategy.
    and so is bringing binding arbitration to a court of law … a public image strategy. No reason to get all huffy and puffy. The workers will get their raises. The rule of law is Supreme but unfortunately long winded.

  12. Anon says:

    Perhaps more interesting than arguing about the Merits of the case would be analyzing the mechanics of the case itself.
    With Roberts named as a defendant along with the MTA what incentive does Roberts have of being against worker raises now (!). And why would they remove Roberts as a defendant or would some other individual (not to hard to figure out) be named as a defendant (additionally or instead of) Roberts.

    Moreover as the Economy looks worse with 100 Million yanked by the state … it should have absolutely no bearing in this case as it happened AFTER the binding arbitration. With the MTA perpetually in financial straights would one then argue that workers should never get raises? Doesn’t government deep pockets display a different type of economic hardship than private industry (well yes). Therefore not unconscionable as what must be proved here.

    MTA has a very, very tough case

  13. Alon Levy says:

    The problem isn’t even the MI in general, whose contributions to public discourse include Heather “Blacks are criminals” MacDonald and Charles “Blacks are genetically stupid” Murray. It’s Gelinas herself, who has never found a social problem she couldn’t blame on spending, taxes, or union workers.

  14. oscarfrye says:

    Thank you, Nicole, for speaking the truth.

    This passage in particular is perfectly stated, concise, and spot on:

    . . nobody can seriously claim to be a transit advocate and not address these issues. Unreformed labor costs mean that money that should go into capital spending — to improve transit — is instead going to pension and benefit costs. And the public does not support more transit investment because it knows that it is just paying for benefits that are no longer available anywhere else. Unreformed labor means that we will forever be stuck with bad transit. Support for transit is not the same as mindless support for the TWU . . .

    • Alon Levy says:

      But this is not what unions do. Yes, they raise salaries for their members. They do that in France and Germany and Japan too, and yet transit there doesn’t have legacy cost issues. The problem is that American unions specifically, and not German or Japanese unions, object to technological improvements that make workers redundant, such as OPTO, driverless shuttles, short dwells, and proof of payment for commuter rail. Most of those inefficiencies come from general stupidity of local business culture, and would happen even if management had a free hand.

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