Union, MTA square off over work rules changes

By · Published in 2011

In just 30 days from now, the current contract between the TWU and the MTA will expire, and while a strike seems rather unlikely, so too does a smooth resolution of the labor situation. The MTA, under Jay Walder, had pledged a net-zero increase in labor costs, and the authority’s long-term budget planning dictates such a result. Union leaders, on the other hand, realize such a commitment means firings or wage freezers for their members. It’s turning out to be quite a stalemate.

One of the key areas of concern for the MTA focuses around workrules. The authority wants more flexibility in defining jobs. There’s no reason why a station cleaner can’t also address routine maintenance concerns, and yet, as Pete Donohue reported yesterday, the TWU is pushing back on these issues. He writes:

The MTA is seeking dozens of work-rule changes it believes will increase productivity and reduce labor costs. Generally, it wants to break down previously negotiated barriers establishing the different pay rates and tasks for job titles like cleaner and station maintainer.

The Transport Workers Union is willing to negotiate reasonable contract changes, Local 100 President John Samuelsen said. Loading more chores on station cleaners may not fit that description, in his view.

“They don’t have enough cleaners in stations to keep them clean right now, which is why there’s a rat problem,” Samuelsen said. “Taking them away from their duties to do something else doesn’t seem to make sense,” he said. “They have the right to bargain over what they want — but that’s not something we’re interested in doing.”

Of course, as president of the union, Samuelsen won’t admit to any concessions in the pages of a major daily newspaper. They are going to come though one way or another.

As Donohue relates, asking cleaners to “change a light bulb or unclog the toilet” is but one in a series of work rule revisions the authority has requested. The management also would like to require bus drivers to help change tires and refuel their vehicles. The MTA wants to eliminate rest periods at terminals following end-to-end subway runs, and they want to cut the full-time staff who must work at least eight hours by 20 percent. These are no small demands.

Right now, negotiations are in the early stages, and both sides are angling for good press. The MTA though simply cannot afford labor increases. After losing out on a few hundred million dollars as state tax revenues fell short and the payroll tax was partially repealed, a labor increase would put further pressure on the authority’s bottom line. Bigger operational issues — such as system-wide OPTO and overtime reform — might have to wait it out as well. What the next thirty days may bring will have an impact on our transit system one way or another.

Categories : TWU

75 Responses to “Union, MTA square off over work rules changes”

  1. Andrew says:

    What does “eliminate rest periods at terminals following end-to-end subway runs” mean? Aside from lunch, I don’t think there are any guaranteed rest periods – the train operator usually takes out the next train after the one he brings in, or the one after that, so that he has enough time to walk to the other end of the platform (and maybe use the bathroom).

    Part-time staff is an interesting bargaining tactic, but I doubt the union will give in. (I assume they will be mostly express bus operators.)

    “Break[ing] down previously negotiated barriers” includes OPTO.

  2. Donald says:

    They want bus drivers to change tires? That is absurd. Does that mean every bus is going to be equipped with a jack and a spare tire? Where will the jack and tire be stored?

    • al says:

      This probably refers work at bus depots. Quite a bit of maintenance goes on during midday. There’s a far out chance it might also refer to work rules regarding replacing a blown tire.

  3. Donald says:

    Having part tiem workers won’t do any good. Then you will just have workers who will stay on the job and leave the moment they can find a full time job. So you will be spending a ton of money on recruitment and training. Look at the TSA screeners. Most of them are part time, and they have the highest turnover and lowest morale of all federal employees. Nobody stays in that job.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Part-time TSA screeners are brutal toward people. So are full-time, unionized cops and prison guards. What’s your point?

      • Bolwerk says:

        A psych(?) study that even made it to the pages of CNN recently suggested people with power and no status tend to exercise their power the least responsibly. The reputation of mall cops and MTA token booth clerks is likely connected.

  4. Alex C says:

    TWU, you know you’re failing when you’re a union and you’re unpopular in NYC. Awful. They pretty much are making it clear they’re there to defend the lazy and the careless among them.
    As for system-wide OPTO, that’s really only feasible on the CBTC lines, which right now is only the L. At an island platform on a non-CBTC line, a T/O would have to stop the train, get up, walk over to the other side of the cab, open the window, open the doors, close the doors, close the window, walk and sit down at chair, start train. Not very smooth. Then again, I doubt the MTA would allow BART-like operation where the operator can be on the side opposite the train controls (platform on left side) and just close the doors and let the train take off without the operator at the console. Also, there’s the issue of the C using half-width cab R32’s and the J/Z still having 5 R42A’s.

    • Donald says:

      The TWU is unpopular ebcause of all the anti union sentiment coming from the Republican controlled media. You think organized labor is unpopular? Tell that to John Kasich, whose union busting bill went down in flames. Tell that to Scott Walker, whose currently facing a recall eelction.

      And in the long run, having OPTO on CBTC lines would not save any money because CBTC is super expensive to install. Wait until they sart installing CBTC on tracks wthat are used by multiple lines. The system will be a disaster when computers malfunction. A 16 year old in California could shut down the entire MTA by sending the computer system a DDOS (distributed denial of service). They’ve shut down govt. websites, so don’t think it is impossible.

      • al says:

        CBTC is not just for operator count. It is also signal modernization. Some of the very old signal equipment no longer have spare parts in production (or even original manufacturers in existence) and thus require custom parts. How much will it cost to maintain the old signals vs CBTC (anyone seen the financial analysis?)?

        There’s also the ability to run more trains per hr (terminal capacity permitting). Its not cheap, but should roughly be in the range of a LRT line the same route length.

        It also allows for greater train location awareness and line run time variability control, and thus better control over punctuality.

        Is the internal signals and communication network linked up to the public internet? Such critical systems should be isolated from the web and checked for hard intrusion vectors. There’s no need for web access on communication lines that carry announcements and system data.

        Add a dead man switch. Its early 20th century technology. If you need a high tech version, get one from Bombardier, Alstrom, or Kawasaki. All of them build Rapid transit vehicles with various levels of automation.

      • Larry Littlefield says:

        “The TWU is unpopular because of all the anti union sentiment coming from the Republican controlled media.”

        I think the TWU is not unpopular, but would be unpopular if the difference between TWU raises at twice the rate of inflation in the past three years, and the soaring cost of the pensions that were enhanced in 2000, at a time whem most (non-Wall Street) people’s wages are falling.

        The usual gambit has been blame overpaid management. But the number of non-line positions has been slashed and their pay has been frozen for two years.

        The next gambit has been to cry “tax the millionaires!” But now the “temporary” higher taxes on millionaries have been made permanent.

        Meanwhile, riders have been hit by service cuts and fare increases, including one about to arrive.

        So what does the TWU say now? I think it would have to make the case that the changes in well being merely reflect the relative worth of different people, and everyone else should become even worse off so they can become even better off in recent years in the name of additional justice. Good luck with that.

        So I expect them to go to arbitration, in the hopes that the precedent of raises at double the inflation rate, pension increases, fare increases and service cuts will be maintained.

        • Donald says:

          The MTA is broke because they are spending so much money on capital projects. Debt, not labor, is their #1 expense. The MTA needs to be honest with the public and tell them that there are a lot of nice things that we simply cannot afford, like countdown timers.

          • Larry Littlefield says:

            And the ongoing normal replacement required to prevent system degradation.

            At the very least, rehabbing stations and buying new cars and buses should be off the table for a decade or two.

            If a station becomes so decrepit it is dangerous you close it, and people have to walk farther. If subway cars start breaking down every 10,000 miles you scrap them and cut service. But some level of service continues.

            If the infrastructure is left to rot, entire lines are gone.

          • Debt, not labor, is their #1 expense.

            That’s just not true. I understand your point that the MTA has taken on too much debt to boost their capital projects, but their operations budget — which is responsible for paying down that debt service — is not paying out more debt than anything else. For 2012, debt payments account for 17% of the proposed budget while non-labor expenses amount to 24%. The remaining 59% are labor costs. Payroll alone is twice debt.

            • Larry Littlefield says:

              It’s hard to say what is what anymore.

              They took a whole bunch of operating expenses and put them on the capital budget so they could borrow for them: re. “reimbusible” expenditures.

              At the same time they took capital debt and funded it from the operating budget.

              And recently they have just gone ahead and borrowed to fund the operating budget, which should have led to screams but instead just led to silence.

      • Alex C says:

        I’m in favor of unions, just not the TWU, which goes out of its own way to make itself look bad.

      • Alex C says:

        The signal system network should not be hooked up to the WWW. No reason to do so. If everything is done right, CBTC will be excellent for our subways. As for the deadman switch, just place an emergency stop button at the left side of the cab for the T/O if he sees something on the track as train departs, done deal.

        • Donald says:

          The T/O cannot see anything if he is on the left side. The left side of the cab has no forward facing window. He is totally blind.

          • Alex C says:

            I realize that…I take it every day. What I’m saying is, if the T/O sees something while looking out that side window, have a button there to stop train operation or if while walking over to the right side he/she sees something in the storm door window he/she can mash the button. This wouldn’t be an issue if there was a window there like with the R142/A.

            • Donald says:

              And what if something is happening in the rear or middle of the train? The operator cannot stick their head out the window while the train is leaving the station. That is incredibly dangerous. They won’t have enough time to see anything before the train enters the tunnel.

              • Alex C says:

                Cameras. CBTC packages by various companies (Alstom, Invensys, etc) have CCTV, transmission of said CCTV to control centers and from platforms to train operating consoles, etc. all built in. Also, there is the emergency intercom. Whether a T/O or C/R deals with an issue is not a big difference, as unless the issue is in their car they’ll have to walk. In OPTO, the T/O simply has to deactivate train operation via key (R160 won’t run, period) and he/she can go and investigate the problem. If anything, control center can see what’s happening in the cars and announce anything that needs to be announced directly to the train’s PA system while T/O isn’t in his/her cab. Again, BART and WMATA and other systems have been handling OPTO fine for years. It works. That said, I do understand if they want the extra person around for added safety. I just think that in the long run, CBTC and the need to cut costs will lead to the full switch to OPTO.

      • Alon Levy says:

        You don’t need CBTC for OPTO.

        • Alex C says:

          OPTO maybe not. CBTC? Yes. More trains per hour, closer together, safer, and automatic train control. Our system is nice, but it’s a relic that relies on track circuits and fixed blocks. CBTC will help reduce the conga lines that form at places like IND Queens Boulevard local going to 71. There’s a very good argument for 2-person operation, but CBTC has been tried and proven the world over.

          • Alon Levy says:

            Actually, a lot of subways achieve high capacity with fixed blocks. For example, the Moscow Metro’s 40 tph operation uses very short but fixed blocks. Moving blocks give you more capacity, but the difference with best fixed-block technology isn’t that dramatic.

            The argument for CBTC is not really about moving blocks vs. fixed blocks. It’s that the subway needs new signaling, and since the cost of replacement has to be paid anyway, it might as well go for state of the art.

            • Alex C says:

              Ah, I did forget about Moscow. What they do is pretty amazing. Still, as you mentioned, at this point, might as well go with CBTC.

    • Donald says:

      No, they would never allow the oeprator to operate the train while on the other side of the cab because if someone is in the tracks he woun’t be able to stop the train in time. Your also opening up the possibility of the train moving even when the operator is incapacitated. In fact, the main problem with CBTC is that there is no dead man’s switch so a train can move at full speed for as long as 30 seconds with an incapacitated operator. It sets a bad precedent.

      • Bolwerk says:

        If there is a safety drawback to OPTO (there probably isn’t), it’s microscopic. Put it in perspective: you’re more likely to be hit by a car on the street. You’re more likely to get mugged. You’re probably more likely to shoot yourself (at least if you’re a typical U.S. American, maybe not a New Yorker). How many times has the dead man switch been used in over a century? Once? Twice?

        The TWU shouldn’t get to decide New Yorkers can’t have an affordable transit system because the TWU doesn’t want to lose some members because their jobs are decades beyond the expiration date – and using safety as an excuse for their own waste and intractability is just cynical.

        Of course, if the TWU were intelligent and forward-thinking, they’d find solidarity with the riders and push for finding ways to make transit extensions affordable. Conductors and bus drivers alike would be great candidates for motormen on new light and heavy rail subway lines, and in the long run it would mean more jobs for the TWU and better transit for New York City. This isn’t even pie in the sky stuff, except for the fact that we burn money on things that will never, ever do the future any good.

        • Donald says:

          The TWU has absolutly nothing to do with the expense of transit extensions. All that construction work, like the SAS, is done by private contractors who don’t even belong to TWU.

          • Bolwerk says:

            Of course they don’t. That’s why they don’t care about them. They just want to make sure the resources that could be spent on making the system better for riders get wasted in operations instead.

            If they cared about anything other than keeping a really outdated status quo, they’d be very concerned about making sure extensions happen.

            • Donald says:

              The TWU has never opposed extensions.

              • Bolwerk says:

                Are you feeding me shit? Of course they never opposed them. They just don’t care. They care about making sure they get the resources that should be spent on improving the system.

                • Donald says:

                  Why should they care about extensions? That has nothing to do with them. Advocating for extensions is not the job of the union. They have far more important tasks. Let the riding public and politicians be the advocates of extensions.

                  • Bolwerk says:

                    I can think of one purely selfish reason to care: extensions mean more jobs for them in the future…the future they’re jeopardizing with their own myopia. Extensions will make transit more important to NYC, and future generations.

    • Matthias says:

      a T/O would have to stop the train, get up, walk over to the other side of the cab, open the window, open the doors, close the doors, close the window, walk and sit down at chair, start train.
      Exactly how the WMATA system works under manual operation, and why their station stops take so freaking long (jerk, lurch). TPTO has its advantages.

  5. John says:

    They should have known better. As soon as you say “increase productivity” you know the union is going to fight it.

  6. Andrew Smith says:

    The MTA’s position on work rules should be “employees will do whatever work their supervisors ask for their allotted time on the job.”

    That’s the only work rule for 80 percent of the world and abuse is not that common. Bosses don’t ask people to do dangerous stuff or run their errands because, if they did, the bosses’ bosses would fire them.

    Will the MTA be able to negotiate that? Probably not. But it should at least be the starting point.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Uh, if 80% of the world works that way, it’s not the industrialized world. Any U.S. employer worth his/her salt offers a job description delineating the tasks expected, and the employee who is hired expects to do those tasks. In any larger organization not run by raging morons, a fairly complicated job analysis of what knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) are needed to do the job should be done, and the job description should be maintained and updated based on that. Among other things, it shields you against discrimination/abject impact suits.

      Adding roles and responsibilities usually comes with promotion or at least more compensation. Actually, that’s kind of how the MTA works too, except the added pay comes without any of the added roles or responsibilities. Anyway, all the MTA needs to do is get the work rules out of the (first) McCarthy era. If they can do that and have some wiggle room to perhaps add or remove a few things over the next few decades, they’ll be in decent enough shape on the work rules front. They don’t need to introduce workplace autocracy.

      • Donald says:

        What are you talking about? Of course promotions at the MTA come with more responsibility.

        And what work rules are so bad that you oppose? Name 3.

        • Bolwerk says:

          You really like reading things I didn’t say, don’t you? I’m well aware promotions come with more responsibility, but in MTALand pay increases that outstrip inflation don’t necessarily come with promotions or even additional responsibility without formal promotion.

          As for work rules:

          1. Anything connected to hindering OPTO. A conductor must be on most trains.

          2. Token booth agents can’t clean, so they get to do nothing while stations get to look filthy.
          3. Related to #2, cleaners can’t help customer service.

          • Donald says:

            Who told you that raises outstip inflation? For 2011, workers were given a 3% raise. Inflation for 2011 was 3.4%:


            In 2008, inflation went as high as 5.6%. Did workers get a larger raise than this for that year?

            • Bolwerk says:

              Where do you come up with this stuff? Inflation in the 2008-2009 period was negative. We had deflation that period. See? The previous year was more serious; it was actually 3.84%.

              Meanwhile, the same CPI calculator will show you that the 2008-2011 period inflation was about 5.08%. So if they got 3%/year, and ignoring that arbitration reward last year, they’re doing very well – outstripping both the generally downward or stagnant salary increases of American workers in general, and the downright negative growth of MTA revenues.

              • Donald says:

                Govt. inflation numbers are meaningless because they exclude food and energy prices. Include those two, and inflation is much higher.

                • Alon Levy says:

                  You’re wrong. The inflation figure excluding food and energy is called core inflation, and is not used in the CPI. The Fed uses core inflation to set interest rates, but all cost-of-living adjustments use the standard CPI, which includes everything.

                  You shouldn’t listen to inflation-mongering by the Paulistas. They’re at best clueless and at worst will lie to you to get you to vote for union-busters.

                • Bolwerk says:

                  Really, why even bother saying something this easy to disprove? CPI inflation (“general inflation”) most certainly includes food, energy, and many other consumer items. Food is one of the first ones on the list in the most recent monthly report. Energy is further down the list.

                  Of course, if you look over month annual reports you will see inflation in food prices and energy prices tend to be relatively high compared to other goods. OTOH, that rather pales in comparison to, what, 16% hike in the cost of a monthly metrocard the TWU played no small part in inflicting on riders last year.

      • Andrew Smith says:

        To Bolwork’s initial comment, asserting that jobs are somehow as fixed in most of the world as they are at the MTA:

        Uh, sorry, job descriptions are in no way binding upon the corporation most corporations. They’re to give you an idea of what you’ll be doing, not some sort of iron-clad guarantee that allows you to give your boss the finger if he asks something that isn’t on the description.

        Yes, at decently run companies, the descriptions are pretty accurate because the firms have thought out efficient use of employee time. But if you read the fine print, the firm almost always reserves the right to transfer you at will or to ask that you temporarily do any business related task or to unilaterally change the job description at any moment.

        In other words, for the vast majority of workers, their job is, indeed, to do what their bosses tell them to do, which is handy for the employer when changing conditions necessitate changing what people do or when a company wants to experiment to see how they can maximize efficiency.

        But thanks for playing.

        • Bolwerk says:

          Wow, up there’s Donald and here’s the anti-Donald. Where did I say job descriptions are binding on employers? They’re only binding if they’re part of an employment contract. You are absolutely right that employers can direct employees, but it would be rather unusual* for added roles/responsibilities beyond a minor or lateral change not to include some mutual understanding, negotiation, or even a contractual obligation that includes better compensation for larger workload – and the bigger an organization gets, the more likely you are to see those things. The only problem with the MTA is it has under-developed job roles to begin with, which offensively enough involve higher pay than should reasonably be expected.

          Anyone who says otherwise never worked in a field tangentially related to HR or is completely full of shit, like most people who append “but thanks for playing” to hamfisted arguments.

          * And if it’s less unusual now than it was six years ago, you can probably safely attribute the economy.

          • Alon Levy says:

            For the record, work to rule is a lesser form of strike. I don’t think it’s called a strike in English, but it’s still industrial action, and the Hebrew term for it is Italian strike.

            • Bolwerk says:

              Yeah, the only place I ever heard that term used formally in the U.S. was in MSIRL seminars I audited. I’m not sure that is really part of the context here, since they mainly just want the rules to stay where they are, and don’t do more than that as a normal part of their workday anyway. The MTA equivalent is probably a sickout.

              Anecdotally, there seems to be a cultural problem at the MTA where you can have it held against you for doing more, and if that’s the case it makes sense that the TWU would prefer work rules to require easily defined roles that err on the side sanctioned under-performance.

          • Andrew Smith says:

            If you weren’t saying that job descriptions are not binding on employers, then your first irate dismissal of my initial comment wasn’t really an argument against it.

            My only point was that at most jobs, unlike at the MTA, classes of employees don’t get to negotiate what they do in any way, except that they can leave a job when the work/pay ratio doesn’t appeal to them.

            Yes, there are job descriptions at most companies, but, as we agree, they are not negotiated between workers and management. They are created by management and amended by management when management wants (with the limitation that excessively irksome changes will cause your best employees to leave and thus be counterproductive).

            The problem with the MTA’s current system isn’t just that the jobs are under-developed, as you put it. It’s that a system of having to negotiate with workers over job changes basically insures poor productivity.

            Even if the MTA were able to get the union to agree to next year to its ideal job descriptions, those job descriptions would rapidly become obsolete.

            Needs shift. At some companies — companies that operate in stable markets and have long been well run — they shift slowly. At the MTA — which faces radical and instant funding changes, where new technology is constantly arising and where decades of incompetence mean that it will take years of reorganization to make anything like a productive organization — the needs will shift fast.

            But the MTA will be powerless to change work rules without again negotiating with employees, who will demand compensation for allowing any changes. This is a recipe for ongoing failure.

            Also, you comment that additional responsibilities generally bring additional pay tends to hold true at functional and profitable businesses. At ones that loses millions every year, it isn’t. People get laid off. Those who remain pick up the slack at no extra pay. If they can’t, the company dies. The MTA isn’t going to die, of course, but it is in no way absurd to expect employee productivity to rise — without additional compensation — until it is breaking even or demanding so much of employees that it gets no qualified applicants for job openings.

            Will it happen? God no. But it’s a starting point for the MTA.

            As for “thanks for playing,” our experiences differ. I generally see it used as a way to dismiss arguments that are not only incorrect but introduced with needlessly obnoxious words like “Uh, if 80% of the world works that way, it’s not the industrialized world.”

            I’m generally civil to folks who are civil with me, and will chalk your comments up to misunderstanding my initial point. Perhaps you thought my point about employees doing “what bosses want” to mean that I think individual bosses in corporate America can tell individual employees to wash their cars and otherwise run little fiefdoms. That was not my point. “Boss” as I wrote it meant management in general, and the point was simply that management gets to direct employee efforts without needing to negotiate every change. You don’t seem to dispute that so perhaps all this has been for naught.

            • Bolwerk says:

              Your initial comment was

              The MTA’s position on work rules should be “employees will do whatever work their supervisors ask for their allotted time on the job.”

              That’s the only work rule for 80 percent of the world and abuse is not that common.

              and it is just patently absurd at face. Just set legalities aside, it flies in the face of the reality that jobs are heavily specialized and you can’t work like that. The claim also the very least implies (maybe you didn’t mean to imply this) the same kind of myway or the highway contempt for other stakeholders – I’m counting at least the workers, management, and riding public in that term – in this matter that Donald does.

              My only point was that at most jobs, unlike at the MTA, classes of employees don’t get to negotiate what they do in any way, except that they can leave a job when the work/pay ratio doesn’t appeal to them.

              Well, you could have said that. It’s probably wrong or at least moot for other reasons, but it’s not as patently absurd as claiming 80% of the world has no formal or informal set of rules to follow on the job except some hidden 11th commandment about obeying thy employer.

              Anyway, if you aren’t concerned with practical matters, and without commenting on the 95% of the world not living in the USA, you can be assured that risk of failing to follow legal requirements alone will in practice put heavy restrictions on what employers will entertain telling employees to do.

              The problem with the MTA’s current system isn’t just that the jobs are under-developed, as you put it. It’s that a system of having to negotiate with workers over job changes basically insures poor productivity.

              Poorly defined tasks is precisely the problem with the MTA, though why it happens is more open to debate. Crappy negotiation certainly contributes to it. And a terrible side-effect is over-staffing to compensate.

              Negotiation, OTOH, can be good or bad depending how the parties act. It should be an opportunity to improve productivity; and I think if you can say employers can cut employees pay and hours in bad times, employees should at least be heard out and negotiated with when it comes to their treatment in good times.

              In the specific case of the TWU there is no incentive for good faith negotiation in a climate of mutual hostility. Their incentive is to keep those underdeveloped positions underdeveloped.

              Also, you comment that additional responsibilities generally bring additional pay tends to hold true at functional and profitable businesses.

              Whether you or I or Donald like it or not, it holds true just about anywhere. Even at the MTA, it logically has to hold true for the sake of promotion, which will be sometimes necessary even in the face of austerity.

              At ones that loses millions every year, it isn’t. People get laid off.

              They often get laid off in private companies precisely because it’s usually easier to lay people off than to change their work roles – or rules, in the case of a union shop. It’s actually even easier at the MTA, apparently, given last year’s round of layoffs. Layoffs are almost always a straightforward legal option as long as they aren’t done in a discriminatory manner that kind of goes beyond the scope of this discussion – and firing* is another option, if cause to fire can be shown.

              * The distinction is that firing requires showing cause to dismiss, while laying off does not require cause.

              Those who remain pick up the slack at no extra pay.

              That is optimistic, unless you’re dealing with a shockingly entrepreneurial company. Other possibilities exist including:

              • the laid off workers were not performing a necessary role to begin with, and in optimistic scenarios their role was useful at one time

              • they were performing a useful function but were overpaid to do it

              • outsourcing

              • offshoring

              probably a big one during recessions: necessary work just doesn’t get done

              If they can’t, the company dies. The MTA isn’t going to die, of course, but it is in no way absurd to expect employee productivity to rise — without additional compensation — until it is breaking even or demanding so much of employees that it gets no qualified applicants for job openings.

              The expectation that the MTA will or should break even strikes me as a bit absurd. It would be nice, but the #1 goal should be safe, frequent, efficient transit service. This is a public benefit corporation we’re talking about, not a C corp in a Friedman-esque evil dimension.

              Not for any ideological reason, I think the painful reality is the MTA needs to cut back its labor overhead, though this might have been avoided if people thought ahead in the 1990s. But rigid demands that compensation never rise even for meritorious reasons, again, strikes me as having the same heavy-handedness as Donald, only in the opposite direction.

              As for “thanks for playing,” our experiences differ. I generally see it used as a way to dismiss arguments that are not only incorrect but introduced with needlessly obnoxious words like “Uh, if 80% of the world works that way, it’s not the industrialized world.”

              You may not like it, but people use “Uh” all the time without malicious intent. Nothing I said about hiring and labor is especially normative, with the possible exception of my comment about negotiation, and I did my best to use phrases like “I think” when stating my own opinion. Even assuming I got a detail or two wrong, few practicing in H.R., industrial/organizational psychology, or labor law would disagree with me very much on the nature of workplace task delegation.

              Perhaps you thought my point about employees doing “what bosses want” to mean that I think individual bosses in corporate America can tell individual employees to wash their cars and otherwise run little fiefdoms. That was not my point.

              No, I assumed you meant within the context of the workplace, and presumed you meant direction of business-related activities – and near as I can tell, washing managers cars is a legitimate task for someone hired to do that; though a manager would be lucky to find a company that gives him/her such leeway without being Lee Iacocca oor Jack Welch. I did assume you meant managers could have employees take on workplace tasks that were broadly unrelated to the tasks they were hired to perform. Even in cases where that’s allowable, it’s probably generally unworkable.

              I also assumed by 80% of the world, you meant 80% of the industrialized world and/or USA.

              “Boss” as I wrote it meant management in general, and the point was simply that management gets to direct employee efforts without needing to negotiate every change. You don’t seem to dispute that so perhaps all this has been for naught.

              I don’t dispute that, but it isn’t what you originally said. And I would point out, again, that there are plenty of existing caveats to how management can direct employee efforts ranging from occupational safety to skirting sometimes delicate Civil Rights Act rules. To say they can unilaterally inflict radical change with ease by fiat alone, particularly in a large organization, is just wrong.

  7. Donald says:

    How come management never makes a big deal in demanding concessiosn from Metro North and LIRR employees. It seems that they always get treated better. They make way more money for doing virtually the same job (a Metro North condcutor makes $36 an hour while a subway ondcutor makes $28) and they have far more overtime abuse. LIR engieners make an extra day’s pay simply for switchig from electric to diesel.

    • Bolwerk says:

      What is more flabbergasting about that is the NYS legislature and our supposedly fiscally responsible governor do nothing about that, even as they steal $320M from transit users.

      • Larry Littlefield says:

        I wouldn’t say its the same job. Commuter rail conductors handle money, and commuter rail engineers must deal with an FRA book of rules and operate without automatic stop protection.

        But otherwise, the point is well taken. And for infrastructure maintainers NYCT, with more dangerous work on elevated or in tunnels, has jobs deserving of higher pay.

        But let’s say the MTA wanted to merge titles, and make railroad train operator a promotion from subway train operator. What would be the biggest obstacle?

        • Alon Levy says:

          Traditional railroaders think they’re special snowflakes and shouldn’t be treated like mere urban transit operators. When SEPTA tried to merge everything, the regional rail people took their seniority and left for Conrail and Amtrak, and eventually management caved.

          Also, the job of the conductor is to punch tickets, a job that was done in the 1930s the same way as today. In the era of POP, it’s a job that shouldn’t exist.

        • Bolwerk says:

          I dunno, railroad conductor and TA conductor are probably in theory dependent on similar training. In practice, Alon is right that the conductors’ job is to punch tickets, though AIUI they are trained to step in during emergencies and perhaps have to be familiar with signals, radioing, etc.. However, (out of all his comments on this post today) Donald is probably spot on with his prognosis of the LIRR and to a lesser extent MNRR; they enjoy some absurd work rule perks.

          For now, FRA regulations require a conductor aboard the train, though this could be dispensed with in urban transit contexts.* That’s a big obstacle. Once that goes away, the union will still be around to insist on its absurd mandates. The only context where conductors might make sense today is in long-distance travel, and even then probably only analogously to steward[esse]s on airlines.

          * Hey, I have a great idea to improve safety. Let’s put conductors on buses too!

          • Alon Levy says:

            FRA regs require a conductor. They do not require five conductors.

            • al says:

              Scrap all but 1 conductor position through attrition. Use some of the savings for fare control system similar to rapid transit systems with swipe in/swipe out system to account for trip length.

              The MTA should apply for FRA waivers for SIRR so it can run OPTO.

              • Bolwerk says:

                I’m not even sure SIRT is FRA anymore. I can’t find a reliable source saying it is. (Wikipedia is not a reliable source.)

                • Alex C says:

                  They should reactivate the SIRT North Shore line, connect it to the South Shore line, and convert it to this:

                  4-car sets of these should do the trick. Perfect. Two-track line, back and forth. Set it and forget it.

                  • Alon Levy says:

                    Ew. The Advanced Rapid Transit system, i.e. the JFK AirTrain, is vendor-locked. It requires dedicated traction and power and compels all future orders to come from Bombardier. If all you want is a driverless metro, then go with a more conventional operation, such as Vancouver’s Canada Line, Singapore’s newer lines, or even the Copenhagen Metro.

                    • Alex C says:

                      I suggested it because it’s an all-in-one set-it-and-forger-it solution, which is what Staten Island needs. There’s no ridership, and ART would easily get the job done and save a boatload of money in operations. However, the Canada Line is a pretty good precedent for the type of thing that could work for SIRT.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      In cities that are retrofitting older lines for automation, such as Paris, the first lines to be automated are the highest-ridership ones. (Though, more generally, cities rarely retrofit – they just build newer lines to be driverless, like Singapore.) Automation involves spending considerable money on the associated infrastructure, so it’s most worth it on lines that have high traffic, where it would save the most money.

                      In addition, automation allows shorter headways, again making it the most useful option on very busy lines. Paris claims a minimum possible headway of 85-90 seconds on Line 14.

                      In New York, the best candidate for automation is the 42nd Street Shuttle, and maybe the other shuttles.

            • Donald says:

              Reducing conductors on the railroads does not save money because then many passengers wont have their ticket punched, resulting in people riding for free by simply not buying tickets or refunding their tickets after the ride.

              • Alex C says:

                Of all railroads, LIRR needs to get complete FRA waiver. Make it a BART-style commuter line and be done with it. In fact, that should’ve been studied and done the second BART came to be. The fact that a railroad that has one interaction with any kind of non-commuter line at Harrold Interlocking (not counting Bay Ridge and Montauk crossing) and has a few NY&A freight trains has to have full compliance is insane.

                • Donald says:

                  The LIRR is never going to get a complete FRA waiver. They won’t give it to them because then they will have out give waivers too all railroads and the govt. will never allow that to happen.

                  • Alex C says:

                    Which reinforces the point that the FRA is the single stupidest, most useless government agency in the U.S. And I say this as a total liberal. For decades now instead of simply mandating positive train control they’ve just had Amtrak and the commuter lines instead build bank vaults on wheels. Only now have the realized their idiocy…after LIRR and Metro-North and others have wasted millions of extra immediate dollars and millions more down the line on slow, heavy pieces of junk that will continue to keep infrastructure maintenance and electricity and fuel costs up for the next 20-30 years they’re operational.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      This is another area where we can expect no help from Donald’s beloved TWU: NYS should be joining Kalifornia in defying the FRA, or at least threatening to.

                    • Donald says:

                      Yes Bolwerck, defy the FRA. Great idea. Watch how fast the federal govt. cuts funding for the MTA and drags the MTA to court.

                    • Donald says:

                      That is not true Alex. Safety should always be the #1 priority. If you don’t have safe trains, then speed and electric consuption mean nothing. Look at China, where brand new high speed trains keep derailing. Is that a system you want to go to?

                    • Alex C says:

                      This is a reply to Donald. Nobody said anything about unsafe trains. China and its cutting corners has nothing to do with this. I am referring to the idiotic 1800s regulations the FRA has. Safety is of great importance. The problem is, as I said in my post, the way it enforces it. The bank-vault-on-wheels concept has proven to do absolutely *nothing* to increase safety (refer to texting engineer crashing his commuter train into a freight train in CA). European railway safety is better than ours because they realized a long time ago that the best accident is one that doesn’t happen at all and focused on proper signaling along with good, sane crash standards. Their crash test standards are still excellent. The FRA’s safety standards are the railroad equivalent of building an airplane to withstand a direct crash into the ground but having no air traffic controllers or navigation systems to keep planes on track. It’s a backwards way of doing things that does not increase safety (actually decreases it by having no mandates on signaling), and increases costs.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      First, Caltrain got a waiver, though not from staffing requirements.

                      Second, I didn’t tally every country’s rail safety record, but the US mainline rail network has 3 times the per-passenger-km fatality rate of the EU, and about 15 times that of Japan. The LIRR and Metro-North are unique in being so large they get decent (but not great) rolling stock despite FRA meddling.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      Donald’s rants are sounding dumber with every incremental comment. Seriously, safety isn’t the #1 priority after a point. After a point, you’re just blowing bigger and bigger bucks on smaller and smaller increments in safety. The best thing we can do for all-’round safety is have an accessible, reliable rail network. Why? It provides an alternative to the least safe mode of all: cars.

                      And, AIUI, CalTrain got a waiver because they actually had the sack to face off against the FRA. The MTA doesn’t bother. And the staffing issue is probably moot given the regulatory changes coming anyway, right? CAHSR won’t be close to ready by then, if it ever is.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      No, the staffing issues are not changing. Caltrain is overstaffed anyway – it doesn’t even have regular ticket punching, but it keeps assistant conductors for no good reason. And CAHSR wants multiple conductors as well as multiple ticket punchers.

              • Bolwerk says:

                Donald, have you been to Planet Earth lately? POP on the LIRR would be relatively easy, and there is always the turnstile option if it’s not.

            • Bolwerk says:

              If you’re going to require conductors for your fare collection, five could make sense on the LIRR. They have about – what, 15 minutes? – to get a packed, long train load of tickets between NYP and Jamaica.

              I would guess many times they just blitz between one station and the other and deadhead back to do it again during the rush.

  8. John Doe says:

    2012 is right around the corner. When are we getting automated subways??? Gee whiz, MTA workers are slovenly beasts, especially those conductors…oh well I guess The Jetsons age is still a few centuries away…sigh…

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>