Archive for Transit Labor
The City Council’s Transportation Committee is in full-fledged oversight mode today. Even as “no criminality” remains the norm for the daily pedestrian deaths caused by drivers, the committee has decided to hold an emergency hearing on subway platform safety. With 54 deaths out of 1.6 billion riders, this is only a problem due to a pair of recent high-profile incidents. It’s always tragic when someone gets hit by a train, but in terms of pressing problems, this is not one of them.
Still, the show must go on. As the MTA embarks on a new public awareness campaign and eyes subway track sensor technology, the TWU has continued to push for slow trains. Preying on outsized public fears and stoking the flames of general unease with subway platforms, union members — including one dressed as the Grim Reaper — will be distributing the MetroCards you see above and at right this afternoon at some Lower Manhattan subway stations. It is not, by any means, a calm or rational approach to discussing the problem (if there’s even a problem).
As the cards show, the TWU wants three things. It wants trains to slow to a crawl while entering stations. Even at 10 miles per hour though, a huge subway train can do considerable damage to someone who jumps or falls in front of it. Additionally, the dollar cost of such a slowdown would be quite significant, and the MTA says slower trains would seriously reduce travel times and system capacity, leading to dangerous overcrowding.
Second, the TWU wants eyes on the platforms. I can’t disagree with this even if it is a blatant ploy for more jobs for union members. When I pass through Times Square each morning, MTA workers are on the IRT platforms making sure people are safely entering and exiting trains. No harm can come from watchful eyes as long as they are doing their work and contributing to safety.
Third, the TWU wants an emergency power shut-off in station booths. I struggle to see why this is a bad idea. As long as proper protocols are put into place, the only issue I can see concerns the amount of time it would take to power back up. I’m not familiar enough with the technical details of power delivery to the third track to go in depth on this request.
So two of the TWU’s three requests seem sensible, but the first one is obscuring the others. They’ve managed to turn slower trains into some mindworm that Transportation Committee Chairman James Vacca has whole-heartedly embraced, and their public statements are either misleading or misinformed. In defending their bloody MetroCards, a TWU spokesman called slower trains “a quick, easy and no-cost solution” when it is clearly not a quick or no-cost solution.
I believe the union has turned this into such a public matter due to the state of its current contract. Negotiations are stalled until the MTA has a permanent head, and it’s been nearly 13 months since the last agreement expired. But cooler heads should prevail. A train slowdown just isn’t the right answer, and neither is incessant fearmongering.
As I briefly mentioned on Monday afternoon, in response to two recent high-profile 12-9 incidents, the Transport Workers Union Local 100 had mulled issuing a slowdown order, urging TOs to crawl into subway stations. Tonight, more details of the order emerged, and the MTA responded forcefully, citing the Taylor Law. As we near the one-year anniversary of the expiration of the last TWU contract, accusations of politicking are in the air.
The TWU poster [pdf] that has gone up throughout the system hit the Internet tonight, and it urges TOs to enter stations with “extra care.” It says, “Whether someone jumped, fell or was pushed in front of the train, more than 150 T/Os have had to deal with the after-effects of their train hitting someone on the tracks. None of the 150-plus 12-9s were caused by improper operation by any T/O. However, we might prevent some 12-9s by coming into stations more slowly.”
But how slow is “slowly”? Pretty slowly. “In the interest of safety, enter every station as if there is a pair of yellow lanterns at the entrance,” the sign says. “Slow down, blow your horn, and proceed with caution. Preventing a 12-9, and saving yourself the emotional trauma and potential loss of income that go with it, is worth a few extra minutes on your trip. If you are asked where you lost your time, say you were operating safely to prevent 12-9s.” The double yellow lantern essentially means the trains would head into stations at around 10 miles per hour, well below current accepted speeds of 25-30 miles per hour. Such a rate would slow down operations significantly.
The MTA, meanwhile, responded forcefully. As Pete Donohue reported, MTA officials believed the TWU was simply acting, in part, to draw attention to its current contract negotiations. “Any slowdowns in the system which results from this concerted union activity may be considered a job action,” Christopher Johnson, Transit’s V.P. of Labor Relations, said to The Daily News.
In a subsequent statement, the agency elaborated: “Some of the actions the [TWU is] recommending, if implemented, would result in even more hazardous conditions due to overcrowding on platforms and onboard trains. There are other, more effective ways of making the system safer than slowing down train service and we are committed to working towards them.”
Transit officials explained the impact of any potential slowdown to The Wall Street Journal:
Slowing one train on its way into a station has the effect of slowing all the trains behind it in the system, MTA spokesman Charles Seaton said. The backups that would result from requiring every train to slow down significantly at each station would mean fewer train trips every day, Mr. Seaton said, reducing the efficiency of the subway system, which moves about 5 million passengers a day.
And with many subway lines already operating over or near capacity at morning and evening rush hours, reducing the trains’ speed would likely lead to increased crowding on station platforms. That condition already raises safety concerns on the oldest and narrowest station platforms in the system.
“It would certainly make it a lot more difficult to get on board trains, and platforms would be much more crowded,” said Mr. Seaton, who added that MTA officials hadn’t noticed drivers abiding by the slow-down order as of Monday afternoon.
There is no doubt that these train/person accidents create lasting psychological problems for the T/Os. Matt Flegenheimer adroitly profiled those issues in a Times article earlier this week. But these slowdowns are simply unnecessary. There are, as Market Urbanism’s Stephen Smith noted on Twitter, no subway systems in the world that mandate station approaches at such slow speeds, and such a move would negatively impact operations.
So the labor battle continues, as it has for a year. This is the first potential TWU action since Joe Lhota, a leader TWU head John Samuelsen seemingly respected, departed the MTA. It likely won’t be the last until and unless a new contract is in place. And so we wait.
As the region’s transit network struggles to regain its footing now ten days after Sandy swept through the area, the MTA and TWU are squaring off over employee pay for the hurricane days. With the transit network down last week, few New Yorkers could get to work, according to a missing from TWU President John Samuelsen, the MTA promised to pay workers who could not get to their jobs on October 29 and 30. Now though, Samuelsen alleges that the MTA is reneging on its deal.
In a statement, the TWU head had some harsh words for his Transit counterparts.
Today the MTA reneged on the agreement they made with TWU Local 100. They have thoroughly demonstrated that their word means nothing, and that they do not know the meaning of good faith.
In some departments, we were outright told to stay home with pay for Monday and Tuesday. We were not given the option of coming into work. In every department, we were prevented from getting into work because of the decision of the Governor to shut the system down. The decision was not ours and we should not have to bear the cost.
By this decision, management shows what they truly think of the round the clock effort we have made to get the bus and subway system back running after Hurricane Sandy. They show how little respect they have for their workforce. During the hurricane, and then during the mammoth effort to restore service, the MTA praised local 100 for the incredibly difficult work we performed. But actions speak louder than words, and we must never forget this assault on our paychecks. Every worker at the TA, OA and MTA Bus should remember this when asked to make an extra effort “for the good of the service”. Unfortunately, the MTA does not deserve our “extra effort”.
New York City Transit President Thomas Prendergast though had a different take on the matter. Transit has promised to pay everyone who came to work and those who could not as long as the latter group phoned in to explain their absence. In the much the same way that you or I must call my supervisors if I can’t make it to work, so too did Transit expect their workers to do. “If someone never called in, never let us know what they were going to do, and never came into work, we’re not going to pay them,” Prendergast said to The Daily News. Transit officials do not want to set a precedent of paying workers who “shirk[ed] their responsibilities” during the storm because it could lead future employees to do the same during the next emergency.
Don’t forget: It’s now been nearly 11 full months since the last TWU contract expired, and labor negotiations have no been progressing quickly or steadily. This is but the latest salvo in a key battle over the MTA’s short- and long-term budgetary future.
It’s been over nine months since the most recent TWU contract with the MTA expired, and except for some fits and starts, word of negotiations have been largely silent. Partly, that’s because MTA head Joe Lhota vowed not to conduct discussion through the media, and party, that’s because the two sides haven’t been meeting too frequently. According to recent reports, although Lhota and TWU President John Samuelsen have an open phone line, the two have met only around 15 times over the past year.
As the MTA pushes for a net-zero wage increase — a huge assumption underlying their most recent budget projections — The Wall Street Journal clues us into other goings-on at the union. In an article that appeared in Saturday’s paper, Journal reporter Ted Mann notes that internal union politics may be playing a role in the long, slow negotiations. Essentially, with union leadership elections fast approaching, speculation from certain corners of the TWU is that Samuelsen wants to shore up his position before accepting a contract with labor concessions.
Here’s Mann’s take:
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its largest union on Friday held contract talks for the 15th time this year, an unusually slow pace that has prompted criticism of the labor organization’s president. The MTA has prodded John Samuelsen, the president of the Transport Workers Union Local 100, to come to the table more often, according to correspondence reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. And Mr. Samuelsen’s internal union critics have seized on the speed of negotiations as a sign that he is putting off a contract full of painful concessions until after a union election in December.
Mr. Samuelsen defended his approach, saying the union is hamstrung by the effects of an unpopular 2005 strike that gutted its finances and crippled its organizing power. A more aggressive posture—with the threat of a strike in play—wouldn’t work, he said. “This union is simply not organizationally prepared to strike,” Mr. Samuelsen said. A strike is “off the table, not forever, but it’s off the table.”
Mr. Samuelsen’s union critics haven’t advocated a strike but said he is being too conciliatory with the MTA as it tries to extract concessions that would result in no net pay increase for workers. “If it’s the case that the [union] administration has planned its contract strategy around its elections, then everybody should be angry about that,” said Joseph Campbell, Mr. Samuelsen’s leading opponent for control of Local 100, which represents more than 35,000 MTA workers.
In a sense, Mann’s report allowed Campbell to take a very public stand in attacking current union leadership. Campbell, a Roger Toussaint ally, questions Samuelsen’s willingness to push the MTA to the brink. He fears that the net-zero wage increase, or something close to it, will come to pass and clearly wants a more strident union leadership. “Traditionally, TWU has been one of the most militant unions, and that’s why we’re respected in the city among the unions,” he said. “Right now, we don’t see ourselves in that position.”
Samuelsen has defended his position even as he has routinely canceled planned negotiating sessions with the MTA brass. “Yes, this is a new course for Local 100,” the current president said to The Journal. “But we’ve never been in a massive economic downturn, and so shortly after a strike that devastated the fortunes of the TWU.”
It is, ultimately, tough for us to know what’s happening. The union elections loom large, and Samuelsen could be playing the waiting game on a bad deal. He may also be trying to outlast the MTA and push the agency toward arbitration again. That outcome, though, is less than desirable for the MTA — which lost big at a hearing three years ago — or the TWU which would be putting its fate into the hands of an unknown. And so we keep on waiting for a contract that will have ramifications for all of us.
The transit discussion in New York this week have largely focused on fare hikes. Yet again, riders are being asked to pony up more for the same subway service so that the MTA can cover its outstanding obligations — including pension and benefits for retirees and debt assumed for capital projects. The riders aren’t alone though; over the past few years, the MTA has frozen salaries for non-union employees, cut its workforce and engaged in some serious internal cost-cutting.
There is more to be done though. The TWU, the MTA’s largest union, is currently without a contract, and Joe Lhota is toeing a hard line on wage increases. After salary bumps in the previous two contracts that far outpaced inflation and wage increases in the private sector over the past seven years, Lhota is vowing a net-zero increase in labor costs. In other words, if the union secures a wage increase, the MTA will once again start laying off workers. It’s all part of sharing the fiscal pain.
Today, Newsday, a paper from the bastion of ill will directed at the MTA, took the time to opine on the current fiscal happenings at the authority. It’s a balanced piece that asks the MTA to do more with internal reform. The paper writes:
If approved, the scheduled fare increase would be the MTA’s fourth in five years. The MTA’s board has little choice but to sign off on the fare hikes, already part of the budget, as a way to keep the system in good repair day after day. But riders must be given something of value in return, such as fundamental reforms to operations and labor contracts that ultimately will result in savings in the years to come…
A gigantic unknown for the MTA, its customers and its employees at the moment is the upcoming bargaining talks with the Transport Workers Union . The encouraging news is that MTA chairman Joseph Lhota knows his agency has no choice but to make its dollars go further than they’re currently going. As contract negotiations loom, Lhota has budgeted precisely $0.00 for raises that don’t entail money-saving changes in work rules — and good for him. Beyond work-rule changes, the MTA needs to streamline operations and consider selling off excess property.
The legislature enacted a partial rollback of the MTA payroll tax, but that’s as far as it should go. A legal challenge to the remaining part of the tax, which was successful in a lower court, is likely to fail on appeal, as it should. With recession-battered commuters at the breaking point, the MTA is taking a creative new approach. It’s something like this: workers, managers and riders making shared sacrifices along the way — to keep the system rolling. This week, riders learned what their part of the bill might look like. It isn’t pretty. Lhota must squeeze excess from management, and the unions need to step up. It’s hard to imagine anything else working.
From Long Island, we have a newspaper noting that the payroll tax needs to stand for economic reasons and will stand for legal reasons. But we also have a voice in the wilderness calling for real labor reform. Work rules aren’t sexy and don’t draw headlines, but they, as much as anything else, are responsible for the MTA’s fiscal ship leaning askew. Lhota’s ability to exact concessions from the union will determine the MTA’s future just as much as the looming fare hike will.
For months now, the MTA and TWU Local 100 — its largest union — have been coexisting in a steady state of unease. TWU members have been working without a contract since mid-January, and MTA CEO and Chairman Joseph J. Lhota has been working with TWU President John Samuelsen, in private, to hammer out a deal. After vowing to keep negotiations out of the press, though, Samuelsen broke that vow in a big way yesterday while bringing the issue of one-person train operations back into the open.
The details are sketchy, but apparently, the MTA recently broached the topic of OPTO with the TWU. In response, Samuelsen and, for some reason, two reverends from Brooklyn took to Huffington Post to voice their objections. While also speaking out against part-time bus drivers, Samuelsen voiced his objections to OPTO on the same old grounds we’ve been hearing for years:
While the MTA currently uses OPTO on shuttles and on the G train during nights and weekends, these trains only use four cars when in operation. Expanding OPTO to full length trains increases the risks to passengers while they are entering or exiting the trains, greatly raises the difficulties and hazards involved if a train has to be evacuated, and makes it harder for a passenger who needs assistance to get it. This is especially important at a time when crime on the subways is rising. We believe that the presence of uniformed conductors on our trains is vital for the safety and assistance of passengers, especially in our full-length trains.
In response, the MTA had nothing to say. Lhota offered up a statement while taking a shot at the union: “Unlike John, I’m going to honor my promise not to negotiate in the press.” I don’t blame him; penning an open letter and publishing it to the Huffington Post isn’t only a trite cliche but a rather public statement. But at least it gives us a glimpse into the negotiations, and it appears as though the MTA is at least trying to exact work-rule changes that most sensible transit agencies adopted years ago.
And what of Samuelsen’s arguments? First, let’s do away with his appeal to rising crime rates. The numbers are going up because people’s gadgets are getting lifted at a higher rate. With a strong sense of safety, straphangers are more willing to play it faster and looser with high-priced electronics than they should, and petty thieves can snatch and grap. No amount of on-train personnel will change that.
His other arguments are an appeal to personal fear. If a train has to be evacuated, having one person on board makes it that much harder. Of course, that’s true, but how often do trains have to be evacuated? The last time a train ran into such an emergency was during the blizzard of December 2010, and even then, having a train conductor and a train operator did little to get customers out of the system any faster. It’s a spurious argument at best and one that can be dismissed with a simple cost-benefit analysis. The cost of employing two people on every single train the MTA runs far outweighs the minor benefits of one extra person during an extremely rare evacuation.
And so we are left at an impasse. The MTA wants to enact a net-zero wage increase when this TWU contract is eventually renewed, and the TWU wants more jobs and more money for its employed union members. OPTO has been a sticking point for the better part of a decade, but it’s also a future that New York needs. A mess of public negotiating though doesn’t help anyone.
Here in New York City, the idea of a driverless train seems like a fantasy. After all, our subways have not one but two people responsible for operations, and any suggestion that trains could operate with one — let alone zero — operators seems laughably futuristic and far-fetched. Of course, within the city, the JFK AirTrain operates automatically, and numerous international subways runs safely with one driver or fewer.
So why can’t American transit agencies embrace driverless trains? The answer isn’t really a secret: Work rules along with aggressive and often misleading public campaigns have led to entrenched and redundant jobs. Management hasn’t adequately embraced one-person train operations or even driverless trains as a cost saving measure, and the upfront capital costs are a barrier to a rapid rollout of such a technology. It’s a perfect storm of mitigating factors, and it’s going to become an issue as transit agency labor costs continue to climb.
Yesterday at The Atlantic Cities site, Stephen Smith from Market Urbanism tackled this very issue. After providing an overview of the international scene and other failed U.S. attempts at reform, he levied his sights on New York City:
And New York? Fuggedaboutit. Upgrades to Paris’s Métro have proven that retrofitting century-old subways for driverless operation is possible (and arguably safety-enhancing, with platform screen doors installed at stations that restrict access to the tracks until a train is safely docked and aligned), and Glasgow’s subway, which predates New York’s by almost a decade, is only five years away from driverless capabilities.
New York’s subway, on the other hand, hasn’t even advanced to the 20th century in terms of labor-saving efficiencies, never mind the 21st. Almost all of the subway’s trains have two paid employees on board at all times, long after other rapid transit systems around the country folded driving and door operation into one job. The city has slowly been winning concessions from its drivers union toward so-called “one-person train operation” and other efficiency measures, but it’s starting from a low base.
New York is an outlier in labor intransigence, but public sector transit unions are a potent force in setting transit agendas in American cities – more so than in Europe and Asia, where high ridership creates a large and wealthy rider constituency to demand efficiency and counteract the political power of transit unions.
I believe Smith’s analysis doesn’t dive deep enough here into a few underlying issues. The first is a problem of management. The MTA hasn’t aggressively pushed OPTO or driverless trains as a cost-saving measure. If the option is between losing frequent subway service or losing an employee on the train, the choice is an easy one. Unfortunately, considering the MTA’s track record with both costs and on-time delivery, it’s tough to see an OPTO treatment happening any time soon at any reasonable price.
Second, the TWU is firmly entrenched against any cutbacks in onboard staffing levels. They take advantage of public fears over safety and the supposed impossibility of such train operations while relying on the fact that New Yorkers have a very limited knowledge of the way things work elsewhere. I don’t expect the unions to support anything that eliminates over 600 jobs at peak hours, and the issue hasn’t even come up in recent negotiations.
Finally, transit ridership isn’t a constituency demanding efficiency. Perhaps this has to do with the city’s love-hate relationships with its subway system spurred on by uneven and misleading coverage of transit politics and economics. Perhaps it comes from the passable-to-decrepit appearance of the subway system that doesn’t inspire confidence. Whatever the cause, subway riders are agitating only for no fare hikes and more service but not for efficiency measures.
Smith thinks it’s only a matter of time. “The only question is,” he writes, “will riders demand it in time to actually improve service, or will transit agencies hold out until they’re forced to use it to save existing service from cuts?” Considering the lead time for deployment, if it isn’t the former, the latter may be a struggle.
As the MTA and TWU enter month six since their previous contract expired, negotiations have been awfully silent for a while. MTA Chairman Joe Lhota brough that out in the open today though with a forcefully worded piece in the pages of The Post today in which he calls upon the TWU to make some sacrifices. After years of streamlining operations, he writes, it’s time for the TWU to give back as well.
It’s not yet common knowledge, but the agency is in an era of cost-containment and -control unlike anything in its history — as even a quick glance at the MTA’s financial statement reveals. Annual expense reductions in the operating budget — that is, savings that recur year after year — totaled about $700 million in 2011 and will grow to $890 million in 2015. That’s 11 percent of our discretionary operating budget.
How did we do it? We eliminated more than 3,500 positions, including 20 percent of our headquarters staff. We renegotiated vendor contracts. We froze wages for all non-union employees. We rebid employee health care. We reduced unnecessary overtime and consolidated redundant functions. The list goes on and on . . . and this work is far from over. In 2012 and beyond, we’ll continue to slash costs while looking for creative ways to bring in revenue…
All the while — during a time of unprecedented cost-cutting at the MTA, and as our nondiscretionary costs spiral out of control — binding arbitration has required that members of our largest labor union get pay hikes of 4 percent in 2009, 4 percent in 2010 and 3 percent in 2011. That’s a whopping 11 percent over the last three years, at a time when New York City’s cost-of-living index rose 4.6 percent.
Managers and non-union workers haven’t been so lucky. They got 0 percent in 2009, 0 percent in 2010 and 0 percent in 2011. Today, these public servants have gone four years without so much as a cost-of-living increase. That’s why the MTA is asking its unionized workforce, during its current contract talks, to forego raises for the next three years.
Labor, writes Lhota, should be “a part of the solution.”
On Twitter, TWU Local 100 called Lhota’s piece “outrageous” but didn’t offer up much more. I’m not surprised they don’t see eye-to-eye with the Chairman, but he makes a very compelling case indeed. At a time when non-unionized workers haven’t seen a raise in nearly half a decade and the MTA is clearly at risk of a brain drain of talented workers, everyone has to pay somehow.
Back in October, the L train made some headlines when the MTA promised service increases. With communications-based train control on tap, Transit knew it could respond to complaints of overcrowding once the technology is ready, and in October, the agency issued a 14-month timeline. Things, it seems, are moving quickly.
As Newsday reports today, the MTA will roll out massive service improvements along the L this weekend. “The MTA will add nearly 100 trains each week along the L line starting Sunday, providing much-needed service for the route, which has seen sardine-like conditions for more than a decade,” Marc Beja reports. “Starting this weekend, 16 additional round trips will run each weekday, 11 more will go on Saturdays and another seven on Sundays, an MTA spokesman said.”
The service increase will cost around $1.7 million annually and should help significantly alleviate the L train’s crush capacity problems. “This is not going to be the silver bullet, but this is real good news for L train riders,” State Senator Daniel Squadron, who has long fought for more frequent L service, said. “Anyone tired of the crushing crowds and overflowing trains will now have an L train trip less likely to feel like hell.” I’m not sure what other silver bullet Squadron wants, and this will be welcome news for L riders.
As the TWU and MTA continue to operate without a contract, authority chairman Joseph Lhota took aim at benefits costs yesterday during a hearing with the New York State Senate Transportation Committee. As Pete Donohue recounts, Lhota noted that these costs are “spiral[ling] out of control.” He said, “In fact, but for mandated increases in pension and health care costs, we would not need the 2013 fare increase,” Lhota said.
In response, TWU President John Samuelsen blamed the MTA’s “mismanagement of construction projects,” but mismanagement here isn’t the right word. Perhaps mis-funding is as debt costs have increased the MTA’s operations obligations to the detriment of investment in subway service. Either way the fares are going up 7.5 percent next year.
The truth of course is in the middle. The MTA has turned into an organization funding pension and health care costs for retired workers for years, and these obligations have exerted a tremendous pressure on the operating budget. No one in Albany seems to willing to confront this issue however and the costs continue to mount.