Home Transit LaborTWU CBC: Net-zero wage increase ‘fair and appropriate’

CBC: Net-zero wage increase ‘fair and appropriate’

by Benjamin Kabak

A net-zero wage increase for TWU workers would be “fair and appropriate” considering the totality of the circumstances, the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission said this week. In a report analyzing what could and should happen were the MTA and TWU face arbitration to resolve their ongoing labor dispute, the CBC said a compensation package should not cause fare increases, and the Commission explained in detail how TWU workers have enjoyed prosperity in a poor economic climate and should not expect to earn across-the-board wage increases.

The report, released on Monday and available here as a PDF, is framed as a grand what if. What if, as has routinely happened between the two sides, the MTA and TWU must go to arbitration in front of the Public Employment Relations Board to settle their differences? How would the PERB decide in a binding case?

Using the same five criteria PERB members must consider, the CBC analyzed the TWU’s current situation and the MTA’s financial crisis. Overall, they found the heavy rail operators and bus operators and maintenance staff are already the highest paid in the country and are often better off than New York City’s private employees when it comes to wages, health insurance and pension benefits. As TWU employees enjoyed raises of over 11 percent from 2009-2011, New York’s private employees saw, on average, pay bumps of barely one percent.

Furthermore, TWU compensation has “consistently exceeded inflation.” Since 1999, TWU raises have risen by 47 percent while inflation has increased by 38 percent. Over the past three-year contract, the raises have outpaced inflation by nearly 100 percent.

To compound the problem, the MTA is not in a position to suffer through more wage increases, the CBC notes. “Failure to achieve this [net-zero] target will widen the MTA’s operating deficit: each one point increase awarded to the TWU would increase costs by $42 million, if applied to setting wages elsewhere in the system. “An award along the lines of projected inflation – 2.2 percent in 2012 and 2 percent thereafter – would open a budget gap of $92.4 million in 2012, $176.4 million in 2013, and $256.4 million in 2014, approximately 2.25% of operating expenses,” the report says. “Since the MTA does not have the financial ability to pay any wage increases awarded with a greater cost than ‘net zero,’ riders are likely to bear the burden in the form of increased fares or reduced service.”

The net-zero wage increase then may be in the public good, the Commission believes. The MTA must, they write, have resources to “provide reliable service, preventing fares from becoming burdensome to riders, and securing decent compensation and work conditions for worker.” Efficient operations can accomplish this goal, and to that end, the CBC says, the TWU and MTA may have a serious discussion on one-person train operations. Ultimately, something as bare as work rule reform must be accepted by both sides.

In the end, the CBC issues a call for a net-zero wage increase. They write:

The findings indicate that awarding “net?zero” wage increases is fair and appropriate given the current economic climate, the fiscal outlook of the MTA, the burdens recently placed upon riders, and the high relative and overall compensation level of TWU employees.   State and City governments have set a three?year wage freeze, with added employee responsibility for health insurance costs, as the pattern for settling expired public employee contracts.  Applying this pattern to the TWU contract would not compromise the standard of living of TWU workers; the inflation rate is projected to be about 2 percent, and a three?year wage freeze will not undo the real wage growth that TWU employees have realized over the last decade.  Increasing employee responsibility for health care costs, through increased premium?sharing or salary contributions, is also appropriate given the relatively modest contributions made by TWU employees as compared to other public and private employees.

Can it happen though? The TWU has not shown a public willingness to accept a net-zero increase in labor spending. Union leaders know such a plan would lead to stagnant wages or a work-force reduction, and that’s a tough pill for union members to swallow. For the public though, affordable and reliable subway service may just depend on it.

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Bolwerk February 3, 2012 - 7:52 am

Efficient operations can accomplish this goal, and to that end, the CBC says, the TWU and MTA may have a serious discussion on one-person train operations. Ultimately, something as bare as work rule reform must be accepted by both sides.

This is the type of thing that shouldn’t even need to be discussed. It should be done, and our cretinous state legislature should be making sure of it with legislation if it won’t be agreed upon in these insipid negotiations. Why? It saves millions of dollars at virtually no penalty to riders or taxpayers. Yes, some people lose their jobs. Yes, that’s sad, but the second person on the train is simply obsolete.

Hell, it’s better than net zero. It results in an actual savings.

al February 3, 2012 - 12:21 pm

OPTO has issues, specifically dwell time at stations during peak hrs at high dwell stations that limits maximum line capacity and train frequency.

However, productivity increases should be a given. Why can’t the TWU and MTA come to an agreement for a selective freeze offset by productivity gains that shrinks payroll while shifting the savings to shore up the pension funds, and invest in the system.

The MTA has tens of thousands of employees. There are data driven tools and practices that identify unnecessary, wasteful, and inefficient medical care that drive up health care costs.

Bolwerk February 3, 2012 - 12:45 pm

If that’s so, solving those “issues”* will still be cheaper than year after year waste of double staffing trains. Or, maybe it makes sense to have a second body on the train during peak hours. Either way, it doesn’t make sense 24/7.

* Isn’t the issue simply that the operator still needs to look to make sure the coast is clear?

Billy G February 3, 2012 - 3:00 pm

That’s what the monitors at each (most?!) stations’ platforms are for. Implement small capital improvement and labor-saving devices and eliminate the bottom 10% of the union-backed workforce that keeps demanding *MORE* *MORE* *MORE*

al February 3, 2012 - 5:44 pm

Stations with platforms opposite of the Train Operator location have video monitors. However, the person still needs to get up, go over, open the doors, close and check the doors, and get back to the train controls. At 30tph, and at least 4 seconds per station, its reduces line frequency by 1 train per hr. If the MTA is to ever operate 40tph, that would cost 2 tph.

Its might be a good time to combine the conductor with track flag man or similar positions. Work aboard trains during peak hrs, then work throughout the system on maintenance and upkeep.

Maybe its time the NYCTA adds devices at stations to prevent anyone from surfing on the trains, or getting on between cars.

Bolwerk February 3, 2012 - 6:47 pm

Even that seems solvable. You’d think modern technology at this point would let them see the camera feed without getting up via streaming video. Either way, particularly before it’s solved, having a conductor on at peak hours seems quite reasonable. And there are probably border-line cases that could go either way too.

The low-hanging fruit that should go, yesterday, are the completely loopy perks. Not incremental costs that directly relate to system efficiency and customer safety; those can be reconsidered later.

Ed February 3, 2012 - 8:31 am

Defenders of the public service unions, and there still are some around, argue on the lines that the problem isn’t that the wages of their members have gone up, is that the wages of everyone in the non-unionized workforce has gone down, so why should the union members have to get pushed out of the middle class just because all the private sector workers are?

While this is true, it ignores that the advantages of income are relative, and if you are middle class and your income stays the same or goes up a little when the income of your neighbors decline, well, you are no longer middle class or working class. And your neighbors now have reason to see you as part of the problem. Not by any means the main part of the problem, but still enough of the problem to be more resistant of diverting more of their tax dollars to your pocket.

Bolwerk February 3, 2012 - 8:38 am

Wage rates of MTA workers aren’t a huge issue. At least at face, their wages are probably on the good side of reasonable. What is costly and harmful to the public is a combination of poorly thought out work rules and overstaffing. It’s hard to defend the need for token booth attendants and conductors nowadays, at the very least.

This problem isn’t limited to the TWU either, of course.

Billy G February 3, 2012 - 3:01 pm


Alon Levy February 6, 2012 - 8:47 pm

Your work pays the salaries of the 0.01%.

BrooklynBus February 3, 2012 - 9:11 am

How would you feel if you were a union worker, a zero increase contract gets signed, then fares go up anyway and the MTA decides to give its non unionized employees increases? Just suppose.

Larry Littlefield February 3, 2012 - 9:28 am

How much would non-unionized pay have to increase just to make up for the 12% increase TWU members received while management pay was frozen (and private sector pay fell)?

By the way, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are cutting pay by 30%. Do that another time, and it might get down to acceptable.

“While this is true, it ignores that the advantages of income are relative.”

Right. When TWU workers and retirees go shopping, the lower the workers who serve them are paid, they better the deal they get. They “vote” for lower pay and benefits for other workers every time they make choices as consumers. Since unlike taxpayers, they have a choice.

Benjamin Kabak February 3, 2012 - 9:32 am

For what it’s worth to you, non-unionized MTA employees have not seen their wages increase in nearly half a decade, and they have not been promoted either. It’s a major source of brain drain from the MTA and disgruntledness within. Considering how TWU workers have gotten raises of at least 11 percent since non-unionized workers were given raises, that’s not really a valid argument or one that should create much sympathy for the cause here.

Pete February 6, 2012 - 9:16 am

Most of the non repped workers also make $20,000-$40,000 more per year than the highest paid electronic workers in the TA. I don’t care what personnel cuts Walder said he did, it didn’t hit the excessively high managerial ranks in the TA. The only cuts were the station agents, cleaners and some non-repped technicians that were being used to do TWU electronic work and weren’t qualified for the jobs. The old friend of friends hiring scheme for non civil service in the TA is alive and well.

Al D February 3, 2012 - 9:42 am

The health care cost contribution is so old school as to be stuck in time back to 70s. That contribution really needs to increase. It’s ridiculous as is.

And a paid day for your birthday? C’mon! I’ve had plenty of birthdays at plenty of different employers, in a union and not in a union, with government and outside of government, and NO employer EVER paid me to go and celebrate my birthday all day!

Bolwerk February 3, 2012 - 11:00 am

That bday thing is pretty trite, but it’s actually less obnoxious than open-ended obligations or some of the criminally retarded work rules found on the commuter railroads. At least everyone has a birthday and it can be planned for and budgeted for like a vacation day.

Al D February 3, 2012 - 2:50 pm

I don’t disagree, but it is representative of the problem, and the commuter railroads of course are not part of TWU

Phillip Roncoroni February 3, 2012 - 6:10 pm

The health care cost contribution is so old school as to be stuck in time back to 70s. That contribution really needs to increase. It’s ridiculous as is.

No, what’s ridiculous is the fact that we have a for-profit healthcare system in this country unlike the rest of the civilized world.

Alon Levy February 6, 2012 - 8:54 pm

Um, nearly every developed country has for-profit health care. For example, in France, there are public hospitals, and private practices that get to charge what they want, with fixed state subsidies and for nearly everyone also private add-on insurance. The US innovation is that there’s no public mechanism guaranteeing universal access to good care, apart from Obamacare (and even that is not doing enough on the cost control front).

How much is that labor agreement in the window? :: Second Ave. Sagas April 23, 2014 - 11:26 pm

[…] hikes if they couldn’t toe the net-zero line. The Citizens Budget Commission has long since endorsed the approach, and the MTA and TWU were at […]


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