When the TWU’s contract expired on Monday, January 16, 2012, it seemed as though the MTA and its largest union would figure out a way to resolve the situation amicably. After all, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had appointed Joe Lhota to head up the MTA with an eye toward the contract negotiations, and both state and union officials were optimistic of a short stand-off.
Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. Here we are, 13 months later, with no end in sight. Joe Lhota didn’t move the ball too far, and the TWU rejected one of his more generous proposals last fall. Now, the former MTA head is involved in a campaign for the Republican mayoral candidacy, and the MTA has had no full-time Chairman/CEO for 50 days and counting. If Gov. Cuomo even knows there’s an absence to fill, I’d be a bit surprised.
Today, we learn from The Post that the two sides haven’t talked in three months. To make matters worse, the two sides can’t agree on why they haven’t spoken since November. Jennifer Fermino reports:
The 35,000-member strong Transport Workers Union Local 100 — which has been without a contract for over a year — claims the MTA has refused to negotiate since ex-chairman Joseph Lhota quit to run for mayor. “We have informed the MTA that we are fully prepared to continue bargaining,” the TWU said in a contract update to its members.” They responded that they won’t be ready to come back to the table until after Gov. Cuomo appoints, and the State Senate confirms, a new chair of the agency.”
It’s unclear when that will be. Cuomo has not named a successor to Lhota. But MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz called the TWU’s claims “pure fiction.” An agency official blamed said the TWU refused to schedule time to come to the table. The MTA has continued contract talks with other workers unions, the official said.
According to Fermino, the TWU had previously rejected an offer that would have guaranteed a four-percent raise spread out over five years but with other givebacks as well. A Metro-North union had rejected a similar contract, and in the full statement available on the union’s website, TWU officials claim rejecting such an offer strengthens their position. I’m not so sure it’s as cut and dry as that, but I know one thing: Riders are going to suffer.
As the union makes abundantly clear in its statement, it will not accept “big work-rule givebacks and huge out of pocket increases in the cost of medical benefits.” Additionally, as the union made clear, its recent focus on subway platform safety is a not-so-veiled attempt at promoting its own ends rather than true concern with public safety. In both cases — through higher wages and greater pension obligations or through slower, less effective and more costly train service — the public loses.
It’s hard to say what’s going to happen over the next few months. Andrew Cuomo will eventually appoint someone to head up the MTA, and that someone will eventually have to address the TWU’s contract. But even the best-case scenario probably means a late March or early April confirmation date for the next MTA CEO. Meanwhile, the concerns of the riders, as always, are being ignored, if not pushed aside entirely, and transit offerings will suffer because of it.