Jul
13

Unnecessarily unto the public hearing breach

By · Published in 2010

Later this evening, MTA Board members and angry union members will square off in a pair of public hearings. Despite voting to cut the station agents in early 2010 and holding hearings on a nearly identical proposal a year ago, the MTA had to host these public open houses to placate a Manhattan Supreme Court judge who found that the MTA’s dismissals this year for plans approved last year violated the law. What the hearings tonight will accomplish is very little.

We’ve been down this path before with public hearings, and every time the MTA opens itself up to hearing from its constituents, politicians and interest groups grab the microphones. Instead of allowing people to speak in the order in which they’ve signed up, our elected officials often jump to the front of the line to get in their shots and go home. That’s what happened in March when the authority heard from the public on the planned slate of service cuts.

This week’s hearings should be even worse. The TWU organizers have engaged in a blitz via Twitter, Facebook, phone-banking and old fashioned union round-ups to, as one release put it, “pack these hearings and deliver a strong message” to the MTA Board members. At locations in Manhattan and Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, MTA employees will come out in force to yell at those who sign their checks.

In all likelihood, tempers will flare as they did in March. When job cuts are on the line, labor leaders tend to be ruthless, and anyone who dares speak out in favor of the plan to shutter token booths and fire station agents will be, at the very least, mocked and probably threatened by the union supporters in the crowd. With jobs on the line, after all, the TWU members are very motivated to attend these hearings and make themselves known.

On the one hand, I can’t hold the TWU’s actions against them. As a labor union, those in charge have to protect their jobs, and right now, the TWU is fighting against an MTA Board that has already made up its mind in a day and age very hostile to labor interests. Many New Yorkers have come to see station agents as superfluous, and while these workers put themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis, the media coverage often focuses around those who don’t do their jobs well rather than those who do.

But on the other hand, I still have to wonder about the union’s lackluster support for the MTA in Albany and at home. Instead of talking about the way pension obligations represent nine percent of the MTA’s annual expenditures, former union members focus on debt service which accounts for 16 percent of the MTA’s spending pie. Do two spending wrongs make an economic right?

The TWU has never embraced congestion pricing, claiming to me once via Twitter that it was “too complicated” to get into the debate through that media and voicing concerns about the impact a charge would have on the middle class. This argument completely ignores the fact that middle class New Yorkers don’t spend their days driving to and from Manhattan’s Central Business District and would, in fact, benefit more from a more fully funded subway system. Such are the way of unions today.

So tonight we get a political governmental farce. On the stage will be MTA Board members who are there because a judge told them to be. They’ll hear the crowd; they’ll vote to close the booths and fire the station agents. At the microphone, we’ll see an increasingly belligerent audience using the time to bash the MTA for all of its many short-comings. No matter who wins, those paying the fare and riding the subways will lose.



Categories : TWU

16 Responses to “Unnecessarily unto the public hearing breach”

  1. Al D says:

    Most token booth clerks are either nasty, inattentive, dismissive, disrespectful or some combination of these. However, there was a real nice lady at Union Sq who really helped us out recently, and I thank her for that.

    So I am very happy to use the easy to use TVM’s. Way less attitude.

    Install security cameras (finally!) is you want security. Hire a private security guard company…

    • Paulp says:

      It’s pretty clear that this is not the comments of a regular subway rider. “I am very happy to use the easy to use TVM’s” easy to use? Sure if they’re woking at all.

      Also you’ve got to wonder about someone who says:
      “However, there was a real nice lady at Union Sq who really helped us out recently”
      and then wishes her to lose her job.

      Nice guy.

      • Nathanael says:

        You know that the MTA is not getting rid of all the station agents? Right?

        They’ll retain them at the busiest stations. Probably including Union Square?

        Hopefully union seniority rules will allow the nice women at Union Square to keep her job. Rather than being replaced by some lazy jerk currently working another station, who has more seniority.

        The TWU is making themselves look like asses. Again.

  2. AK says:

    “On the one hand, I can’t hold the TWU’s actions against them. As a labor union, those in charge have to protect their jobs.”

    I want to reiterate that I think this understanding of what a union’s duties are (one shared by most people, I assume) is somewhat misguided. I would describe a union’s duties in these terms:

    “Labor union leaders must employ all legal tactics to support both the short and long-term interests of their members.”

    When conceiving of the union’s duties in this way, one realizes that constantly opposing labor cuts actually violates the labor union’s duty to its members, since, by so doing, the union (1) loses credibility with the employer/public and (2) forces additional costs on the employer that lead to greater labor pain down the line.

    Should be “interesting” hearings…(rolling eyes)

    • pete says:

      But a government employer has infinite income to spend on union salaries. Therefore, there can not be greater labor pain down the line.

  3. Larry Littlefield says:

    “Former union members focus on debt service which accounts for 16 percent of the MTA’s spending pie. Do two spending wrongs make an economic right?”

    Wrongs? From their point of view?

    They have a deal with the poltical class and its other backers to score at the expense of our future, and lie about it. The TWU may be disappointed in their share of the winnings, but re-destroying the transit system is nonetheless a goal, not a wrong. If the transit system isn’t destroyed, someone left money on the table. And when they get a retroactive 20/50 pension, then their share of the destruction of mass transit in NY will rise to the level they believe appropriate.

    All this objection to layoffs is a show. Unions love layoffs. The remaining workers give up nothing (the retirees NEVER give up anything), and provide fewer public services in return; the laid off are gone. The reason for the show is to make sure that those laid off don’t blame the union if they return to active service. No other reason.

    Now furloughs, wage freezes and higher pension contributions affecting those with seniority as well as younger generations — THAT is what they are against.

    • Sharon says:

      ““On the one hand, I can’t hold the TWU’s actions against them. As a labor union, those in charge have to protect their jobs.”

      The same jobs the mta offered to scale out as people retired back in 2003. Not to mention conductors fall into the same situation. They could begin to phase out conductors without layoffs.

      As for the debt service. The TWU fought to get raise with money that could have been used to pay down debt. The average TWU member is not a financial specialist and goes by what the union says which is often a lie. The mta needs to shed 10% of it’s labor force by rewriting work rules to make workers more flexible. No reason a bus cleaner could not clean a train or station. A select bus inspector could not replace a station agent and enforce the fare in the subway.

  4. JebO says:

    The TWU needs to get behind congestion pricing. If they had, they could have avoided these layoffs.

    • ferryboi says:

      You’d be surprised how many TWU members drive to work. Take a look at parking lots at bus depots and rail yards around the city. They are full of cars, and they sure don’t want to pay extra tolls to get to work!

  5. Paulp says:

    “Instead of talking about the way pension obligations represent nine percent of the MTA’s annual expenditures,”

    Just wondering about your angle on this. Surely you don’t mean that retired TWU members should be looking for reduced pensions.

  6. Alon Levy says:

    Ben, the responsible thing to do when talking about pensions is to ring up Tokyo Metro, Toei, or JR East, and ask how big their obligations are. I don’t have hard numbers, but I’d bet they’re quite high, because of Japan’s culture of cradle-to-grave corporate responsibility; in addition, JR East has been constantly reducing its payroll since privatization, which means a higher retiree-to-payroll ratio.

    The problem isn’t retirees. It’s not even the TWU, primarily (though, yes, the intransigence on OPTO doesn’t help). It’s general overstaffing, most of which seems to be in administration.

    • Nathanael says:

      The problem is *primarily* underfunding.

      Overstaffing? Well, the massive *redundant departments* problem due to the fact that the MTA is not one agency is a real, and huge, cause of overstaffing. The commuter railroads have some pretty impressive administrative overstaffing due to sheer LIRR/MNCR redundancy.

      Within NYC Transit, on the other hand, what overstaffing there is appears to be largely on the union side, with the hostility to OPTO, and with “craft wars”. Of course the “craft wars” are far worse in the commuter railroads, and LIRR is suffering from 100-year-old work rules…

  7. how to grow hair faster says:

    The problem isn’t retirees. It’s not even the TWU, primarily (though, yes, the intransigence on OPTO doesn’t help). It’s general overstaffing, most of which seems to be in administration.

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