One of the strangest realities about the looming MTA financial crisis relates to wages. Non-union employees at the MTA — including everyone in a management position — is currently slated for a 10 percent wage reduction while all union members are going to enjoy three straight years of raises. Chew on that one as the MTA prepares to cut its student MetroCard program.
Jay Walder, the authority’s CEO and Chairman, as well as the MTA Board representatives are well aware of this discrepancy between the MTA’s economic reality and the new labor contract. Their hands, for now, are mostly tied, but Walder is going to examine carefully the MTA’s payroll as he looks to avert potentially disastrous service cuts.
According to The Post, Walder is going after overtime. Currently, the MTA spends more than $500 million a year on overtime, and Walder sees this, rightfully so, as wasteful spending. “We need to take the place apart,” he said, referring to the need to change the culture at the MTA from management on down to the rank-and-file. He expects to layoff approximately 700 employees, and rampant overtime will be curtailed.
Still, other Board members took a more aggressive tone yesterday. Tom Namako reports on one:
Board member Nancy Shevell set her sights on the transit union, saying this year’s fare hikes will end up funding TWU Local 100’s “unrealistic” 11 percent raises over the next three years. “Where did the fare increase go? Where did that money go?” she said. “So much of it is going to our union members and the unrealistic work rules and unrealistic increases they’ve received.
“It is really unfair that one large group is not going to be affected by the economic downturn and another large group — for example, our youth and our disabled and working people — are having to pay the price,” she said.
In response, John Samuelsen did what he seems to do best: He defended his union raises at the worst time possible. “It’s easy to talk about taking a pay cut when you’re making a few hundred thousand a year,” he said of the MTA’s looming non-union paycut. I wonder if Samuelsen is losing the war by winning this battle though. Now isn’t the time to be too vocal in support of a pay raise.
In the end, though, the union raises fall at the feet of the MTA as much as they do the arbitrators who sided with the TWU. Norman Brown, a non-voting Board member who serves the MTA as one of labor’s representatives, chided the former MTA leaders — Lee Sander and Dale Hemmerdinger — for punting on the labor negotiations. He urged the MTA to keep negotiations in the future in-house and avoid arbitration. The union is willing to work with MTA leadership to reach solutions acceptable to both sides, and by involving outside parties, Brown argued, the MTA runs the risk of drawing arbitrators who are not familiar with the way the MTA’s finances work or the way the transit system is run.
Brown, of course, is right. In the end, the arbitrators sided with the TWU in an all-or-nothing hearing because that’s what the city’s other unions have received lately. Never mind that the MTA is a state authority or that it financial ability to pay is not tied directly to tax rates as the city’s is. The arbitration was the death knell here.
Now, though, it’s time for the two sides to work together to solve their differences. The MTA can’t afford increasing costs, and the union members can’t afford to see their employer, the people who sign the checks, stumble toward bankruptcy. Something, from both sides, has to give.