Home MTA Politics MTA to restore WEP program

MTA to restore WEP program

by Benjamin Kabak

From the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s, the MTA took part in a welfare-related work experience program that required a certain number of welfare recipients to work as station cleaners underground. The authority used the WEP program to promote station cleanliness without the costs associated with unionized labor, and while Roger Toussaint’s TWU had long objected, Willie James, the one-team president of Local 100, had ushered in the program back in 1996.

Now, amidst employee cuts and complaints of dirtier stations, the MTA is going to bring back the program. “This is a program that has a proven track record of doing three things: providing low-cost cleaning help for the subway; providing job training to people who need it, and leading directly to full-time employment for many of the people who participate in the program,” MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said to the Daily News last week.

Even as over the years, WEP workers moved into union positions with full-time wages and benefits, New Yorkers seem mixed on this program. I can’t fathom why anyone would complain about the potential for cleaner trains or stations, but Pete Donohue sums up the thinking in his column today.

News that welfare recipients will be given mops and brooms to earn their benefits by cleaning the subways elicited strong reactions last week. Some readers viewed it as a further erosion of unions because the MTA would be getting free labor instead of having to pay a decent wage with benefits.

Others thought it a novel idea that could give welfare recipients useful work experience and riders a more palatable environment. Still others – prejudging all welfare recipients as lazy layabouts who would finally have to do something for their handouts – considered it a measure of justice.

Basically, those reactions run the gamut, but if the WEP workers bring even a modicum of cleanliness or order to a system overwhelmed by trash, I can’t see too many people complaining for much longer.

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32 comments

Jason April 4, 2011 - 12:01 pm

We use WEP participants at many of our buildings downtown and the standard of cleanliness these employees create leaves much to be desired. My bet is that we will see little, if any difference in the trains and stations in regards to how clean they are.

At least it’ll save money for the MTA though, so thats a plus I guess.

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Jerrold April 4, 2011 - 12:32 pm

Perhaps they would be motivated to work harder if they were PAID at the same rate that other people are paid to do the same work.

The entire idea of “working for your welfare check” is a contradiction in terms. If you’re working for it, it’s NOT a welfare check anymore. It’s a paycheck.

Now, if somebody is employable, they SHOULD be given a job instead of welfare, but then they should be paid what anybody else is paid to do the same job.

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Woody April 4, 2011 - 2:54 pm

How do you think they’ll save money? The MTA is not paying anyone to do this work now. No well-paid union-protected employee will be sacked to make way for the WEP workers.

If the WEP crew does as good a job as the uniformed workers from Ready, Willing, & Able (all recently released ex-cons). or the street cleaners of the Times Square and Herald Square business improvement districts, we’ll soon see substantial improvements in station cleanliness.

My ‘street’ friends tell me those jobs (sweeping the streets and emptying the garbage bins in Midtown) are regarded as “good” jobs. They are not just better than being jobless, they actually pay two or three dollars above the minimum wage.

The generally privileged readers of SAS may not know how extremely difficult the job market is today for (usually minority) men and women with few skills (and often many bad habits). The garment district jobs of pushing clothes racks is gone to China. Messenger jobs have been replaced by emails with attachments. Dishwashing and similar restaurant jobs are typically given to undocumented immigrants who will work for substantially less than the legal, but unenforced, minimum wage. Etc.

And hush up about “welfare”. Since Clinton reformed “welfare as we know it” about 15 years ago, even women with babies are limited to a lifetime MAXIMUM of five years on public assistance, and it can be a hassle to get that. After their time runs out, they can stand on their own, move to the homeless shelters, or live on the streets. Single men generally get even less help. Often enough they get sent to jail for petty stuff (then held in prison at $40,000+ per year to maintain them there).

So I welcome these new job opportunities from the MTA for men and women who are desperately seeking work of any kind.

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Jason April 4, 2011 - 3:46 pm

Hey, I think its a good ideas as well that the MTA will offer these positions to WEP workers. My comment was just that the quality of the job done by thme is lacking, but thats just one man’s opinion.

As far as in-house cleaners, if they are not unionized MTA employees, who is currently cleaning the trains out at the terminals? I swore i saw them wearing MTA gear while cleaning, thats why I thought this move was to be a money saver by the MTA penny pinchers.

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Alex Engel April 6, 2011 - 1:18 am

Well said.

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Alex Engel April 6, 2011 - 1:19 am

And that posted to the wrong comment. Meant to be on Woody’s.

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stuart November 11, 2014 - 1:31 am

Helping them get on their feet is a good thing.

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CLINTON HILL CHILL December 23, 2015 - 3:09 pm

not helping them…..its helping PEOPLE…..PERIOD! GET A LIFE!

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CLINTON HILL CHILL December 23, 2015 - 3:06 pm

It’s not about saving money……..It should be about CREATING JOBS……..

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Bolwerk April 4, 2011 - 1:31 pm

Major cleanliness problems are on the tracks and in the tunnels, not always the stations themselves.

And yeah, sorry, but this sounds like indentured servitude. If you want to help welfare recipients get useful job skills, give them internships. Anybody can mop a floor. There are hundreds of overpaid, probably obese, token booth clerks who could use the exercise.

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Jerrold April 4, 2011 - 3:33 pm

At THIS point, we have too few token booth clerks, NOT too many.

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Bolwerk April 4, 2011 - 3:55 pm

How many people do you need to scowl at you when you ask for help? :-\

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CLINTON HILL CHILL December 23, 2015 - 3:04 pm

When was the last time you used a TOKEN? LMAO

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Hank April 4, 2011 - 4:22 pm

How can you NOT be in favor of this? This city has a permanent class of public welfare consumers who should be forced to do SOMETHING for the great deal of largess they receive from the public treasury.

I respect the Union’s concerns. However, as we watch our defined contribution pension plans shrink to nothing while their defined benefit plans swell, a little give is more than apporpriate.

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Bolwerk April 4, 2011 - 4:35 pm

We should all be thankful for that largesse. It’s one of the few ways the NYC economy gets a large chunk of its own money back from Washington!

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Hank April 4, 2011 - 7:13 pm

If only it were that easy… You make a good point (though it ignores abominations like public housing and other, city-funded handout programs exploited by certain politically active/connected communities).

My greater critque is of the culture of entitlement and the bipolar city it creates. We don’t have a middle-class in NYC anymore (beyond what the commuter trains lend us for 10 hours a day). We have a class of payers and a class of consumers of public resources. Anyone making between 55k and 125k is too (poor/rich, take your pick) to live here. That destroys sustainable communities. Our only response are knee jerk and self-defeating things like increased rent-control or narrowing the payer / expanding the consumer groups by re-allocating even more income….
sigh, I’m moving to NJ, where 100k is upper-middleclass (grrrr)

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Bolwerk April 4, 2011 - 7:33 pm

NYC has a vast middle class. What we don’t have in great abundance is a white “middle-middle class.”

Anyway, I’m not convinced attracting a middle class is a good idea anyway. It replaces one set of entitlements with another more expensive set. I suppose what’s left of the white middle-middle class remains largely because of public housing though. When it goes “wrong,” it leads to disasters like East New York. When it goes “right,” it leads to the types of public housing found throughout the lower east side of Manhattan, where we essentially pay a relatively unskilled, untalented middle class to live out their lives with suburban creature comforts in LeCorbusier monstrosities.

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Hank April 5, 2011 - 10:27 am

If we “pay a relatively unskilled, untalented middle class to live out their lives with suburban creature comforts in LeCorbusier monstrosities,” we have no middle-class at all in NYC. That type of life-style is inherently divorced from the virtues of middle-class living that make it so inherently desirable.

And NYC does need a middle-class, regardless of its race. We need a vibrant core of family people who are not so rich as to be cost indifferent or part of a welfare class paid by the rich to fill up the city. Otherwise we risk becoming a dormitory city for young people who come for a few years and then move on when they want a family(or stick around as aging hipsters). This group has little investment in the longterm growth of the City and, while interesting, is not a foundation to build the City upon.

Bolwerk April 6, 2011 - 3:44 pm

What do you think a middle class is then? NYC has north of 1M children in public schools – there isn’t a shortage of families, and that’s not counting the hundreds of thousands of young people likely attached to their parents who attend CUNY. NYC has a pretty vast upper middle class of people with marketable skills. It has a rather large working/labor class, similarly with marketable or at least necessary skills, that probably enjoy grossly oversized salaries (comparable to the suburban middle class). All that’s missing is the stereotypical class of car-owning, picket fence-having, IQ-of-102 $40k/year earners who have a small percentage of the talent and consume most of the USA’s entitlements.

The people I’d worry about retaining are the younger types with strong skillsets, particularly in scientific and quantitative fields, who get driven away because the rent is too damn high. NYC needs to be able to compete with London, Tokyo, and upstarts like Berlin and Beijing. Instead, many of the people with the highest potential are being poached by second- or third-rate cities like Portland, Houston, or Miami.

Not to say there’s anything new here. NYC and NYS have been missing the boat since the 1960s. Silicon Valley probably could have been in the Hudson Valley/MNRR corridor if we played our cards right.

Al D April 5, 2011 - 12:19 pm

NYCHA is almost 100% federally funded

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Donald April 4, 2011 - 4:24 pm

How long until we see WEP bus drivers and train operators? Don’t worry, if there is a way to get the WEP people into these jobs, Walder will find it.

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Bolwerk April 4, 2011 - 7:56 pm

Somehow I doubt it. Walder probably wants a functional, sustainable labor regime – not one where everyone is making a boatload more than they’re worth for doing relatively menial tasks. I don’t think this WEP program is right, but it doesn’t mean the TWU’s preference for paying people $27/hr to sweep floors is right either.

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CLINTON HILL CHILL December 23, 2015 - 2:58 pm

If you think Interns do menial tasks…..you’re an I D I O T !

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Al D April 5, 2011 - 12:22 pm

One thing’s for sure, this program cannot result in stations more dirty then they already are!

But my question is that I never see tiled surfaces being washed. Why?

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Benjamin Kabak April 5, 2011 - 12:24 pm

Sometimes, they close the stations to wash the tiles. Sometimes, they do it late at night. I’ve seen it very rarely but I have seen it.

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CLINTON HILL CHILL December 23, 2015 - 2:56 pm

Because that’s not for WEP(INTERNS)……

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Al D April 5, 2011 - 12:25 pm

I think that what they need is a team of SWAT style cleaners that will thoroughly scrub and clean 1 station at a time. For example, when a line is OOS for weekend work, the team can tackle those stations at the same time. On other lines, just shut 1 station at a time on a line for 1 night, or 1 diection of 2 stations.

Why is it soooo bloody hard to keep a clean station?! PATH even has station zambonis for crying out loud.

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bronx native September 4, 2013 - 12:53 pm

One question let’s say your ready willing and able to obtain employment with the MTA and your not a felon or a drug user and in the wep program and you do what your told and they just have you waiting instead of hiring you who can you talk to because when you call them they never have anything to tell you ??

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CLINTON HILL CHILL December 23, 2015 - 2:57 pm

GOOD POINT!!!! CALL MRS. PARKER @ 718-243-4145…..ASAP!!!!!

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CLINTON HILL CHILL December 23, 2015 - 2:54 pm

Don’t clasify all WEP workers the same. It’s a fact that 95% want the job, and aren’t lazy.. Waiting for 2 years is a bit much, so anyone who tries to get the job is applauded….

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CLINTON HILL CHILL December 23, 2015 - 3:00 pm

The only difference between a WEP worker and someone else you took a test is the fee they paid to apply for the job. Plain and simple…

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john doe April 6, 2016 - 11:42 am

You just have to do the job…..

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