Archive for TWU
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.
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.
During yesterday’s discussion on subway stations we love to hate, a few readers mentioned narrow platforms as a major concern. At rush hour, some stations simply cannot handle the crowds, and lately, the MTA has dealt with a spate of accidents, some fatal, at 72nd St. and Broadway, an express stop home of a very narrow platform. John Samuelsen has a solution.
The TWU boss, in an letter to Joe Lhota which The Daily News obtained, calls upon the MTA to bring more employees to oversee platforms at crowded or dangerous stations. The authority has reduced these so-called station conductors from 100 to 40 over the past five years, and they could restore some order. “The platform is so narrow that if a person slips or trips there is a good chance they will be hit by an approaching train or fall onto the tracks,” he wrote.
Samuelsen might be onto something, but I wonder if he would accept my proposal: Bring aboard more station conductors by changing the job responsibilities of station agents to include platform duty during peak hours. This way, the MTA wouldn’t have to spend money it doesn’t have on staffing levels while at the same time, the authority would be developing a more productive work force. It would be a win for the MTA, a win for passengers and a win for the union as well.
As the MTA and TWU amble their way toward some sort of settlement over their current contract dispute, dissent may be brewing from within the Local 100 ranks. As Ted Mann of The Wall Street Journal reports today, Roger Toussaint, the erstwhile leader of the city’s TWU local and the man responsible for the 2005 transit strike, is back on the scene, and he has been aggressive in targeting John Samuelsen’s current approach to negotiations. “The issue is not if they have the [money],” Toussaint said to The Journal. “It’s about getting it from them. And you have to have a real strategy to do that. You can’t just make it up as you go along and hope that no one notices.”
After losing an election to Samuelsen in 2009, Toussaint had faded from the scene, and in fact, he had moved down to D.C. for a few years. Within the past few months, when Samuelsen refused to threaten a strike, Toussaint moved back to Brooklyn to resume his track-shop job with the MTA, and many believe he is angling for a spot atop the leadership structure at Local 100. Toussaint in his interview with Mann slams Samuelsen for his approach toward negotiation. He wants a hardline, and he wants the MTA leadership to hear that even as they continue to threaten a net-zero wage increase.
For his part, Samuelsen shrugged off Toussaint’s words and presence. “Roger couldn’t mobilize 20 members to do anything after the 2005 strike,” Samuelsen said. “He couldn’t mobilize a bunch of kindergarten kids to get online to get cookies and milk, and yet he finds fit to criticize our mobilization in the last year.” Still, the former president’s militant tone, in light of the TWU’s embrace of the Occupy Wall Street movement, must have current TWU leadership watching their political backs.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen first-hand the impact unfunded pension obligations can have on municipal economies. Across our state, cities are borrowing from pension plans to pay current pension obligations, and the entire retiree benefits structure is starting to resemble a pyramid scheme.
In essence, then, an organization with obligations to future retirees can choose one of two avenues: They can sacrifice the future to pay off costs now or they can attempt to build for those future obligations while paring down services today. After years of pursuing the first avenue, the MTA appears to be on the second course, but now TWU members looking to reclaim their old jobs (and argue for increased service as well) want the authority to forego fiscal sanity for more money today.
Here’s the TWU’s essential argument: The MTA has recognized that it will one day have $12 billion in retiree benefits and health care costs to pay out, and the agency has begun to set aside some money in a fund for those future obligations. The fund has grown in spurts over the past decade, but it now totals $500 million. The TWU, in a flyer and at MTA Board meeting protests, says the authority should use this money to increase worker salaries and restore service cuts.
Yesterday, Occupy Wall Street representatives and TWU officials railed on the MTA Board for what amounts to a semblance of fiscal responsibility. “The transit workers serve the 99 percent,” Tony Murphy, a member of Occupy for Jobs, said. “It is beyond ludicrous for the M.T.A. to claim a retirees fund as an excuse to deny justice to the transit workers.”
With some TWU members calling for the return of station agents — a dubious idea considering the jump in ridership last year even as station agent staffing levels decreased — union officials toed a hard line. “Enough is enough,” Maurice Jenkins, a TWU Local 100 vice president, said. “Utilize the GASB funds.”
The MTA had other thoughts on the matter. “We are doing everything we can to work with the fragile budget conditions that we have,” MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said. “Their reference to money that’s squired away to pay for retiree health care—we have a $13.2 billion unfunded liability, of which we have put against it $470 million. It’s nowhere near enough. It’s a problem, and we need to continue to fund the funds so that we can make sure that the retiree benefits are there when the retirees of the MTA need it.”
Another Board member echoed Lhota’s take. “You’re essentially borrowing money that actuarially you’re told that you need to have to protect people’s benefits in the future,” Allen Cappelli said. “So it’s not a fiscally prudent thing to do. It’s the kind of practice that gets government agencies into trouble. And then if you run into a crisis and you don’t have the money, then you’ve got to raise fairs and cut services, and we’re trying to avoid that kind of instability.”
Now, I don’t begrudge the TWU for searching for ways to secure raises for their members; that’s what a good union is supposed to do. But while most unions are willing to sacrifice their future members for the current staff, here, the TWU is concerned with current payments without keeping an eye on what they have coming to them in the future. The MTA is, for worse, saddled with high levels of future obligations thanks to a low retirement age and a generous benefits package. Union members can’t enjoy those luxuries while asking the MTA to tap into a fund to pay those benefits now. If so, the losers will be the fare-paying public who will be saddled with these costs one way or another.
As part of their effort to draw attention to the fact that subway rats are really gross — a fact I did not realize needed attention drawn to it — the TWU has recently hosted a subway rat photography contest, and yesterday, they crowned a winner. The grossest rat in the subway dates back from 2008, and it’s really gross. If you want to see what Michael Spivack saw at the 7th Avenue station along 53rd St., click here. The entire gallery is equally disgusting.
Spivack, who has won himself a free monthly MetroCard for spotting this grotesque rodent, said the creature was still living when he snapped the photo. “I was waiting for the D train when I saw something on the platform,” he said to The Daily News. “The thing wasn’t moving but it was alive. I got as close as I dared to get.”
While the TWU’s contest brings visual attention to the rat infestation in the subway system, Albany is slowly attempting to do something to address the problem. The bill to ban food underground moved out of transportation committee by a 16-3 vote although nine of the ayes came with reservations. The bill now sits with the State Senate Finance Committee.
A net-zero wage increase for TWU workers would be “fair and appropriate” considering the totality of the circumstances, the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission said this week. In a report analyzing what could and should happen were the MTA and TWU face arbitration to resolve their ongoing labor dispute, the CBC said a compensation package should not cause fare increases, and the Commission explained in detail how TWU workers have enjoyed prosperity in a poor economic climate and should not expect to earn across-the-board wage increases.
The report, released on Monday and available here as a PDF, is framed as a grand what if. What if, as has routinely happened between the two sides, the MTA and TWU must go to arbitration in front of the Public Employment Relations Board to settle their differences? How would the PERB decide in a binding case?
Using the same five criteria PERB members must consider, the CBC analyzed the TWU’s current situation and the MTA’s financial crisis. Overall, they found the heavy rail operators and bus operators and maintenance staff are already the highest paid in the country and are often better off than New York City’s private employees when it comes to wages, health insurance and pension benefits. As TWU employees enjoyed raises of over 11 percent from 2009-2011, New York’s private employees saw, on average, pay bumps of barely one percent.
Furthermore, TWU compensation has “consistently exceeded inflation.” Since 1999, TWU raises have risen by 47 percent while inflation has increased by 38 percent. Over the past three-year contract, the raises have outpaced inflation by nearly 100 percent.
To compound the problem, the MTA is not in a position to suffer through more wage increases, the CBC notes. “Failure to achieve this [net-zero] target will widen the MTA’s operating deficit: each one point increase awarded to the TWU would increase costs by $42 million, if applied to setting wages elsewhere in the system. “An award along the lines of projected inflation – 2.2 percent in 2012 and 2 percent thereafter – would open a budget gap of $92.4 million in 2012, $176.4 million in 2013, and $256.4 million in 2014, approximately 2.25% of operating expenses,” the report says. “Since the MTA does not have the financial ability to pay any wage increases awarded with a greater cost than ‘net zero,’ riders are likely to bear the burden in the form of increased fares or reduced service.”
The net-zero wage increase then may be in the public good, the Commission believes. The MTA must, they write, have resources to “provide reliable service, preventing fares from becoming burdensome to riders, and securing decent compensation and work conditions for worker.” Efficient operations can accomplish this goal, and to that end, the CBC says, the TWU and MTA may have a serious discussion on one-person train operations. Ultimately, something as bare as work rule reform must be accepted by both sides.
In the end, the CBC issues a call for a net-zero wage increase. They write:
The findings indicate that awarding “net?zero” wage increases is fair and appropriate given the current economic climate, the fiscal outlook of the MTA, the burdens recently placed upon riders, and the high relative and overall compensation level of TWU employees. State and City governments have set a three?year wage freeze, with added employee responsibility for health insurance costs, as the pattern for settling expired public employee contracts. Applying this pattern to the TWU contract would not compromise the standard of living of TWU workers; the inflation rate is projected to be about 2 percent, and a three?year wage freeze will not undo the real wage growth that TWU employees have realized over the last decade. Increasing employee responsibility for health care costs, through increased premium?sharing or salary contributions, is also appropriate given the relatively modest contributions made by TWU employees as compared to other public and private employees.
Can it happen though? The TWU has not shown a public willingness to accept a net-zero increase in labor spending. Union leaders know such a plan would lead to stagnant wages or a work-force reduction, and that’s a tough pill for union members to swallow. For the public though, affordable and reliable subway service may just depend on it.