Even as the MTA and TWU seemingly get nowhere in their ongoing labor negotiations, a few key issues have risen to the top of the agenda. While calls for unnecessary, costly and useless subway slowdowns have garnered headlines, issues concerning part-time employees have become contentions. The MTA wants to cut overtime pay by instituting part-time bus drivers while the TWU objects strenuously to such a plan.
Esme Deprez of Bloomberg breaks down the conflict:
The biggest U.S. transit agency’s proposal to use part-time bus drivers to cut costs is one of the most contentious points in contract talks now in their second year with its largest bargaining unit. The plan is part of a package of measures, including three years of no wage increases, that union leaders hope to derail when they send hundreds of workers to swarm the offices of lawmakers in Albany next month.
Leaders of Transport Workers Union Local 100 say allowing an army of part-time drivers would shrink paychecks, threaten public safety and harm the economic stability of families. “There’s no such thing as a part-time family or a part- time mortgage,” said Jim Gannon, a TWU spokesman. “If some schmuck wants to work part-time, go get a job at Best Buy.”
…Mass transit, especially in metropolitan areas, requires the most vehicles and workers during morning and evening rush hours to meet demand. Work rules that the MTA calls “outdated” require eight-hour shifts. During midday lulls, workers are often paid even when they’re not driving. Shifts lasting more than eight hours can’t be broken up between multiple employees, forcing the MTA to pay one worker overtime to do the whole thing. One bus driver with a base pay of $55,994 in 2009 more than doubled his take-home with $70,473 in overtime pay, according to a 2010 audit by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
In 2010, overtime cost the MTA $560 million for the extra wages, or 13 percent of payroll, the equivalent of employing an extra 7,000 full-time workers, according to the authority. This year, it budgeted $506 million. Toll and fare increases that take effect in March are expected to bring in only $450 million a year.
The TWU has framed the debate in terms of both job security and safety. It’s tougher for union members to make ends meet with only one job if some members are working only part-time jobs, and union leaders allege that part-time workers will not “abide by agency policy requiring approval of outside employment and sufficient rest between shifts.”
The MTA, meanwhile, says shifting some bus drivers to part-time status could save $13 million annually. It’s a small amount in the grand scheme of the MTA’s budget but would both represent work-rule reform and highlight a serious commitment to shaving labor dollars. Right now, though, the issue is just lingering — as are the overall contract negotiations — until some middle ground can be found. As usual, without real labor reform that goes well beyond full- and part-time distinctions, riders will pay, one way or another.