In addition to longer commutes for riders trying to bridge the gap left by the closure of the R train’s Montague Tube, the Sandy-related shutdown has led to some operating pain for the MTA. As the R now operates in two sections during the week, the transit agency has had to roll out more rolling stock and find more people to work the line. As such, we’ve become privy to the inner workings of the MTA’s relationship with its union.
Since the R is running at regular headways but in two sections, the MTA has needed to juggle operations for the train. Eagle-eyed riders may have noticed R160s along the R. The new rolling stock is on loan from the F line during the tunnel repairs, and while the R46s will return in late 2014, for now, R riders get newer cars with dynamic route maps and automated announcements.
But while we like to marvel over rolling stock, these extra train sets require someone to operate them, and to that end, the MTA has found themselves facing a bit of a personnel crunch. As such, the MTA has, according to the Daily News, asked some retirees to voluntarily return to work. It has created some problems and offers a glimpse into the tortured world of labor relations. As Pete Donohue reports:
The MTA has a post-Sandy manpower shortage — and is asking retired motormen to come back to work, the Daily News has learned. NYC Transit sent letters last week to 120 former motormen in which the agency describes a “critical and urgent need” for their expertise. The division needs extra personnel to operate equipment trains for its $3.4 billion in repair projects, NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco told The News. It also needs more motormen for the R line because it is running less efficiently as two shuttles, he said.
A lack of manpower hasn’t yet delayed repair projects, or impacted regularly scheduled subway service, but the work load is ramping up, Bianco said. “We’re on the edge,” Bianco said. “It’s not a situation we want to be in.”
The job pitch, however, could be a hard sell. “I thought it was a joke at first,” Thomas Risi, a 31-year transit veteran, said Monday. “I just retired a few months ago.” Risi, 55, of the Bronx, said he’s enjoying his free time and his $47,000-a-year pension. That’s more than his take-home while working. As a retiree, Risi no longer pays city or state income taxes or the federal Social Security tax.
Kevin Harrington, a vice president with Transport Workers Union Local 100, said it has become harder for motormen to take time off. The union, however, opposes re-hiring retirees “during this time of high unemployment,” Harrington said.
So what’s going on here? First, note that retiree, who is 55, now takes home more after working than he did before. Keep that in mind when fares go up again in 2015. Second, the union would prefer to increase employees rolls and salary and benefits obligations than show flexibility in allowing retirees to return to service. It’s a snapshot of the need to reform the relationship between the MTA and the TWU and a prime example of how the public and its needs get entirely shut out.