Archive for TWU

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast and TWU Local 100 President John Samuelson just wrapped up a press conference during which the MTA and TWU announced a tentative agreement on a new labor deal. It’s a five-year deal with raises in all five years — 1 percent retroactively for the first two and 2 percent for each of the last three years. There are no work rule reforms, but TWU healthcare contributions will increase from 1.5 percent to 2 percent. And the MTA does not expect this deal to impact its planned fare hikes or razor-thin operations margins in the out-years in its financial plan. You may be wondering how; I know I am.

We don’t yet have any of the details behind the math, but estimates are that this deal could add around $150-$200 million per year to the MTA’s operations budget. The MTA has continually noted that need to secure net-zero wage increases in order to avoid jeopardizing its capital plan, but this deal contains none of that. So where does that leave us? It leaves me concerned that the riders will bear the brunt of the costs either through more deferred maintenance, no real capital expansion plans, higher fare hikes down the road, service cuts or a combination of everything. I hope I’m wrong, but this is an election year we’re in. These are the transit politics coming from up high in Albany.

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After over two years of negotiating (or barely negotiating) with various Chairmen, the MTA and TWU Local 100, its largest union, are nearing agreement on a contract, the Daily News reports today. According to Pete Donohue and Ginger Adams Otis, the new agreement grants raises to MTA workers, but it’s unclear if the MTA has moved away from the net-zero position or has wrested other concessions from the union.

Here’s the News’ take. Details are, so far, sparse:

The MTA and the union representing subway and bus workers in the city are close to reaching an agreement on a new contract that would grant workers an 8% raise over five years, according to sources familiar with the talks. Under the package now on the table, new hires would have to work for five years before reaching the top pay rate, an increase of two years, and worker contributions to health care costs would rise to 2% of base pay, from 1.5%, the sources said.

The progress in negotiations appeared to signal a break in the two-year contract stalemate, but sources said, however, that significant issues need to be overcome to produce a deal. The stumbling blocks led Transport Workers Local 100 President John Samuelsen to ask Gov. Cuomo in a letter late Tuesday to intervene and help seal the deal for the 34,000 transit workers in the union.“Absent your intervention, I do not see a path to resolving a number of difficult issues,” Samuelsen wrote to Cuomo.

Steve Greenhouse of The Times adds more color on the union’s request that Cuomo intervene to see these negotiations through. TWU officials say that finalizing their contract will give the MTA a baseline for their contentious negotiations with the LIRR and will help Cuomo avert a costly railroad strike set to begin four months before Election Day. I worry that such an impetus for a contract involves putting the short-term election cart before the long-term horse of the MTA’s fiscal stability. Already, the governor has shown that he is more than willing to sacrifice MTA finances for electoral gains.

Still, until we know the details and understand what, if any, concessions the MTA secured, it’s too early to speculate both on how this deal will impact the MTA’s ledger sheet and what this means for future fare hikes. Still, with promised raises of eight percent over five years, I’m wary. Already, the MTA has scaled back next year’s fare hikes from around eight percent to four percent, and funds are tight. The riders may have to pay more as, in flush times, everyone else is getting more of the economic pie.

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Allow me to dip for just a minute into a quote from 2012′s The Dark Knight Rises. As Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle shares a dance with Bruce Wayne at a masquerade ball, she warns him of impending troubles. “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne,” she warns Wayne. “You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

It’s a bit of an overly dramatic line, but when Bane takes over, Kyle’s words aren’t wrong. Today, when I read WNYC’s coverage of the MTA’s latest budget machinations and the current state of management’s relationship with labor, I had a flashback to the film. “Underground where I work,” Christine Williams, a station agent based in Brooklyn, said. “There’s a storm brewing — and it’s not good. It’s not a merry Christmas when you can’t afford to get to work and when you get to work you’re working at a $7 an hour job. It’s like you can’t win in New York.”

This too a bit overly dramatic. A search through the SeeThroughNY database revealed that Ms. Williams earned $25 an hour back in 2008 — which is hardly a challenging amount — and it’s a far cry from minimum wage. Still, the point remains: As the MTA passed a $13.5 billion budget that rests largely on the shaky assumption of a net-zero labor spending increase, the workers are not happy. “We’re certainly not looking for the stars,” TWU president John Samuelson said during a protest outside this week’s MTA Board meeting. “We’re looking for raises that keep up with the cost of living.”

The debate and the battle aren’t necessarily either/or propositions. The MTA’s stated goal — and one that will help avert massive fare hikes or service increases — is a net-zero scenario. That doesn’t mean wages can’t go up. Rather, it means if wages go up, something else moves along with it. Wages go up; worker count and staffing levels go down. Wages go up; pension contributions go down or retirement age goes up or benefits contributions go down. The options are out there, but the TWU isn’t readily embracing anything at a time of good economic feelings for the MTA.

The real question right now as the TWU Local 100 heads to work each day nearly two years removed from the expiration of their last contract concerns a strike. We all still remember those few days in 2005 when the TWU walked out of the job. For New Yorkers, it was disruptive; for the TWU, it was destructive. Would they do it again? The Taylor Law makes a strike seem doubtful, but union officials are threatening “job actions” which could be slowdowns of any shape or form. They grow tiresome after a while.

Meanwhile, within the MTA’s leadership, the net-zero concept is a controversial one. Perennial Board gadfly Charles Moerdler challenged the assumption this week. Moerdler called such an approach “indefensible and fictional.” As Prendergast pointed out that each percentage point increase in wage increases would add $50 million to the MTA budget, the idea of net-zero seems both perfectly defensible and nearly entirely necessary. A five-percent raise, for instance, would be devastating to the MTA’s budget.

So this gap between the rock and the hard place seems to be narrowing. Rank-and-file are growing dismayed over the fact that it’s been years since their last raise (though non-unionized labor have felt that sting for even longer). At MTA HQ, the lack of labor spending could lead to an even faster brain drain while disgruntled union workers could make service worse. Of course, there’s plenty of room for reform across the board. Will we get there or will this awkward detente be steady enough to support slow movement on a new contract for the TWU? It’s a key issue for the MTA heading into 2014.

Categories : MTA Economics, TWU
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If the MTA has its way, station agents would no longer sit inside token booths but would instead serve multiple roles within their assigned stations. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

For years, the MTA has engaged in an aggressive move to shutter former token booths and reduce the number of full-time staff who sit in these glass cubes occasionally dispensing a MetroCard, a map or a scowl at some straphanger. Even as I’ve supported the effort, it’s still jarring to see the outline of a former booth and no personnel at the entrance to, say, the Bay Ridge-bound Union St. station on 4th Ave., and now the MTA wants to take staffing reassignments to the next logical level.

According to a report in the Daily News, in discussions with the TWU over the union’s next contract, the MTA has proposed doing away with agents in booths entirely at 25 stations and essentially reassigning these employees to serve instead as roving station assistants. It’s a workrule change that has long faced strident union opposition but would do much to make helpers in the subway far more visible while eliminating a position that serves little use these days.

Pete Donohue has the story:

Subway riders will have no choice but buy MetroCards at vending machines under a proposed pilot program that would eliminate all booth positions at 25 stations, The Daily News has learned. Instead of a clerk behind the glass, each station would have a transit worker carrying out a wider-range of duties that might include such tasks as crowd control on platforms, emptying garbage cans and waiting with an ill rider for an ambulance to arrive, according to union and management sources.

Workers in this new role would not handle cash or sell fares but they would still provide riders with travel directions and information, sources said. “The idea is an employee can do a lot more for customers outside of the booth than inside,” an MTA official said.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority brass outlined the proposal in broad terms recently during contract negotiations with Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents bus and subway workers. An MTA spokesman declined to comment because the proposal was part of closed-door contract talks.

As Donohue notes, such a move would represent a major sea change in employee operations as currently “the MTA can’t assign a worker in one job title to duties now proscribed to another title.” The union publicly isn’t interested in this measure because it would obviously reduce staffing levels considerably. It would though lead to a cleaner subway system and a more productive workforce as the vast majority of station agent workhours are spent idle.

Where this idea goes from here is anyone’s guess. For the MTA to realize its net-zero labor projections, the TWU can either accept a shift in workrules, reductions in benefits or a smaller workforce. The union is unlikely to fight against its members’ best interests, and this proposal certainly isn’t something the rank-and-file will embrace even if it has the potential to be a big gain for riders and the MTA.

It’s a positive sign though that the MTA is even talking about this move. Since the end of the token era, station agents have had fewer and fewer responsibilities as station environments receive less and less attention. Shifting workrules to create a more productive and passenger-friendly labor force should be embraced.

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MTA, TWU set to meet again

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It’s been a long time since we’ve heard any sort of update on the status of the contract negotiations between the MTA and TWU — a very long time in fact. With the MTA presenting numerous budget projections with the net-zero labor increase baked in and the TWU agitating against it at everyone opportunity, the two sides haven’t sat down with each other in over a year, and discussions before that were hardly fruitful. Jay Walder and the TWU didn’t get along, and Joe Lhota hardly made solving the contract conundrum a priority during his short time with the agency.

Now, though, as Pete Donohue reports, the two sides will resume meeting to work toward a deal. The TWU has been without a valid contract for 19 months, and they want to see a change. Donohue reports:

Transport Workers Union Local 100 will bolster its case for modest wage increases with a campaign stressing the hard work and sacrifices bus and subway workers made during and after the deluge. “Hurricane Sandy changed everything,” Local 100 President John Samuelsen said. “It’s only appropriate to review and rehash the incredible work New York City transit workers did in getting New York City back on its feet.”

… The stakes are high when the two sides sit down Sept. 30 — and not just for the approximately 36,000 transit workers. An MTA-TWU contract could set the pattern for talks between City Hall and other municipal unions if accompanied by two conditions: The pact is deemed favorable by organized labor, and Democrat Bill de Blasio, the mayoral candidate unions largely support, wins in November, said Lee Adler, senior associate at Cornell University’s Industrial Labor Relations School.

… The MTA insists it can’t afford raises without work-rule changes and efficiency measures to pay for them. The implication is that the authority, which already plans to raise fares again in 2015 by approximately 7.5%, might have to boost its prices even higher without a “net-zero” agreement. The MTA also wants to loosen contract language prohibiting it from eliminating conductor positions on the vast majority of subway trains, a move that would leave riders with just the motorman during emergencies until additional help arrives.

I’m not sure I see the logic in the TWU’s position with regards to the Sandy response. It’s true that workers were asked to go above and beyond for it, but it’s also true that overtime pay was part of the equation. Meanwhile, one telling statement from Tom Prendergast earlier this week provides some insight into management’s thinking. “The farepayers have done a lot, if not more than their fair share,” he said of the MTA’s ongoing struggles with their budget. “Management has done a lot; labor hasn’t.”

Tie wage increases into productivity gains. Allow for OPTO. Don’t allow for another three years of wage increases without something in return. That’s the current stalemate, and it’s not likely to break any time soon.

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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.

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There once was a token booth. (Photo by flickr user gilly youner)

While heading back to Brooklyn from Midtown last night, I entered the 6th Ave. IND at 42nd St. That entrance on the north side of 42nd St. — underneath the Grace Building one one side and the Bank of America building on the other — is a bit odd. It features a row of turnstiles and no station agent. The booth too has long since been removed, a victim of the MTA’s aggressive cost- and personnel-cutting efforts.

Usually, I see people enter the station without incident, but tonight, as four young kids dressed in the colors and jerseys of the Ireland soccer game went to take the B or D up to Yankee Stadium for the match, at least one of them jumped the turnstile. No one was around to stop them, and it’s possible that even a station agent ensconced in a booth wouldn’t have been much of a deterrent as the offender didn’t take stock of his surroundings. I just smiled to myself.

The station agent debate has laid dormant for a few years. Citing security fears, union officials and transit rider advocates alike protested the MTA’s plans to cut station agents and dismantle token booths. It was a sign that this decision was a permanent one, unlikely to be reversed. Each station still had an agent on duty at all times, but that often meant an agent was located across four tracks or an avenue with no view down the platforms. While station agents are offer a passive presence, even the psychological element seemed to be removed.

For its part, even as concerns over system safety in an age of terrorism remain, the MTA has long maintained that the system has never been safer. During my talk at the Transit Museum last week, Joseph Nugent, the Interagency Liaison between the NYPD and NYCT, claimed that station entrances without agents are generally safer. Nugent said that customer diligence and heightened awareness has led to this result, but it’s possible that, without station agents around, fewer subway riders are reporting potential crimes. Jammed Metrocard readers and turnstile jumpers remain a low-level concern, but NYPD enforcement has stemmed that tide.

Now though as the TWU languishes without a contract, the debate is back. With an assist from Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, the TWU is again demanding more station agents. “Machines can’t do the job that we do. They’re constantly out of service,” TWU Local 100 Member Derick Echevarria said to a New York 1 reporter last week. Of course, what job the station agents do varies drastically from person to person with some apathetic and some very helpful.

As part of the protest, the TWU has presented a petition to the MTA, but the agency says it has no plans to restore any agents or booths. In the indeterminate future, MTA customers will be able to use Help Point intercoms for immediate access to a centralized information or emergency alert system, and underground cell service will assuage some safety concerns as well. I’ve tended to err on the side of fewer station agents as I’ve often found those in the booths less than friendly and not particularly helpful, but I understand why people may want more of them around.

What’s really going on here seems to involve the TWU’s agitating for attention. The union’s contract situation remains unresolved, and until Tom Prendergast is confirmed as the MTA’s CEO and Chairman, nothing will happen. It’s been 17 months since the last contract expired, and the union is looking for any sort of political support or traction. The station agents won’t come back, and the TWU knows it. But it’s an easy way to get some press coverage amidst slow negotiations.

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Over the weekend, a 22-year-old Bronx man dropped his iPhone in the subway tracks, and then he decided to go it. He electrocuted himself upon jumping into the tracks, and then the incoming 2 train struck him. It was a fatal accident, and it wasn’t the only one this weekend. Two other New Yorkers — both determined to be suicides — were killed by trains this past weekend.

After an initial flurry of press over subway/passenger collisions earlier this year, the coverage has largely died down, but the issue remains. As part of a general awareness campaign, the TWU released the video posted above. It’s a rap urging straphangers to stand away from the platform edge as trains enter subway stations, and it’s sage advice. (The call at the end of the video for slower trains upon entering stations is, on the other hand, not a wise one.)

But will the video solve the problem? An article in The Post this weekend delves into the numbers behind subway deaths, and suicides have a slight edge over the last three years. According to numbers The Post received from a FOIA request, 78 of 153 deaths caused by subway trains from 2010-2012 are believed to be suicides. So far this year, 16 of 28 deaths fall in that category as well.

With these numbers on hand, New York politicians again called for the MTA to implement some safety measures, including as Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said, “better early-warning systems to detect people on our subway tracks.” But people who jump in front of an incoming train wouldn’t trigger the warning system early enough and even a train traveling at reduced speeds will still kill someone who leaps in front of it. Platform edge barriers — an expensive and sometimes impractical solution — remain the best deterrent.

Meanwhile, it’s not unreasonable to question how much of a problem these collisions truly are. According to Pete Donohue’s latest, there were 657 train/passenger collisions from 2008 through 2012 out of over 8 billion subway riders and around a quarter of those were attempted suicides. As the TWU rap says, stand back just a little bit, don’t jump in the tracks over replaceable items, and personal safety shouldn’t be an issue.

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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.

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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.

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