Archive for TWU

As the MTA Board gears up to validate the new TWU contract on Wednesday, the union met for a vote yesterday, and the deal passed with an overwhelming majority. Over 80 percent of the rank-and-file voted in favor of the agreement — which grants modest retroactive and future raises while requiring higher healthcare contributions. It doesn’t have the work rule reform many had hoped, but it ushers in some peace after years of rancorous negotiations between the TWU and various MTA heads.

Now, attention will turn to the east as the Long Island Rail Road, whose workers can legally strike, gears up for some labor unrest. The UTU has already authorized a strike for late July, and unless the MTA and its LIRR union can come to an agreement soon, the eastern suburbs will be look at a rough summer. The TWU though may be the savior for Long Island riders hoping against a strike. The subway union and the new contract may also be just the thing the MTA needs to put some added pressure on the UTU.

In a paywalled article for Newsday, Alfonso Castillo follows that thread. It could be worse; it could be better. Castillo writes:

An LIRR union source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the TWU’s approval of the contract increases the likelihood of a railroad strike, as LIRR unions have lost some leverage at the bargaining table. “The MTA is going to dig their heels in now,” said the source, adding that the subway workers’ ratification gave the MTA’s case “validity.”

Without an agreement in place, 6,000 LIRR workers could legally strike as early as July 20, stranding some 300,000 daily riders who use the nation’s largest commuter railroad. The LIRR unions have said the MTA’s proposed contract is worth far less to LIRR workers than to subway workers, who will see several new perks that would not benefit railroad workers, including free rides on the LIRR. Railroad workers would also see a far bigger increase in employee health benefit contributions than transit workers will under the contract.

The unions have demanded that the MTA accept the more lucrative terms of a White House-appointed mediation board, which in December called for 17 percent raises for workers, and smaller health care cost contributions. A second Presidential Emergency Board was set to issue its recommendation for a fair LIRR contract Tuesday, just 60 days before a strike could be called. Losing the presidential board’s support a day after subway workers ratified their contract would be a “worst-case scenario,” the union source said. “That would definitely lead to a collision course.”

TWU officials, rightly so, declined to take a stance on the United Transportation Union situation. “I’m the president of the TWU Local 100. I’m not the president of the Long Island Rail Road coalition,” John Samuelson said to Newsday. “We have long-standing benefit issues that the Long Island Rail Road folks didn’t have.”

The MTA, meanwhile, claims they are committed to resolving the outstanding dispute with the UTU at the bargaining table and preferably before a strike. The clock is ticking though, and in two months, the LIRR would effectively shut down for substitute bus service until the two sides agree. As workforce reform goes, it’s more important for the MTA to extract concessions from the LIRR union at this stage in the game, and a strike almost feels inevitable. We’ll see where we are in 60 days.

Categories : TWU, UTU
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For the past few years, through the tenures of three different MTA heads, “net zero” had become a mantra. Without a net-zero labor increase, the MTA’s budget would be deeply in the red with the costs expected to fall on the riders in the form of service cuts, fare hikes or both. As late as February, the MTA warned of steep fare hikes if they couldn’t toe the net-zero line. The Citizens Budget Commission has long since endorsed the approach, and the MTA and TWU were at war.

Then, suddenly, it was election season, and the MTA and TWU were, with the help of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, shaking hands and best buds. Without exacting much in the way of labor reform — and certainly without anything close to net-zero — the MTA gave the TWU a new contract with only a few concessions. The raises — 8 percent over five years — are deserved, and there are some givebacks. But ultimately, the MTA’s labor costs are going to increase by $411 million through 2016. That ain’t net-zero.

In a document released yesterday to bond investors [pdf], the MTA offered the public its first glimpse at the ramifications of the deal. The Memorandum of Understanding won’t be released until after the TWU votes on it, and such a vote isn’t likely until after next week’s MTA Board meeting. So what we know is that the MTA is on the hook for a lot of money. The deal includes retroactive payments of $126 million and a current bump in labor expenses of around $55 million. In 2015 and 2016, the MTA expects to spend $116 million and $114 million respectively, though some experts — notably Nicole Gelinas — believes these estimates to be low.

To cover some of the costs, the new deal includes an increase in the amount of employee contributions to health and other benefits as well as a new “wage progression schedule.” Still, someone has to come up with $411 million, and MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast insists it won’t fail to the fare paying public this time around. So how is the MTA going to pay? Read it (and weep):

MTA anticipates that the onetime payment for retroactive wages in 2014 will be funded from monies derived from released 2013 general reserves budgeted for voluntary deposits to the MTA Long Island Rail Road Plan for Additional Pensions that would have reduced the unfunded liability and future expenses. Increases in current year and annual ongoing costs are anticipated to be paid from funds budgeted for voluntary deposits to the MTA Long Island Rail Road Plan for Additional Pensions, and a portion of monies earmarked for voluntary deposit into the OPEB trust for future retiree healthcare costs.

It gets better. If other unions that do not have contracts in place sign similar deals, the MTA would have to find another $300 million. This money, the agency says, will come from voluntary deposits into the OPEB trust and a reduction of PAYGO capital funds of approximately $70 million. To say this doesn’t fall on the riders is sleight of hand accounting. In fact, this entire budget is sleight hand accounting.

But now we know: The MTA is robbing future riders to pay for the present. It doesn’t bother Cuomo because he’ll be gone from Albany before the bill comes due, but for the rest of us, this isn’t a good deal. We may not pay now because the MTA will keep those looming fare hikes low, but give it a few years. We the riders will be paying then or else the system will suffer.

Categories : MTA Economics, TWU
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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.

Categories : Asides, TWU
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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.

Categories : TWU
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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.

Categories : TWU
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Sep
20

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.

Categories : TWU
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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.

Categories : TWU
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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.

Categories : TWU
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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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