Archive for TWU

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.

Categories : TWU
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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.

Categories : Asides, TWU
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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.

Categories : Asides, TWU
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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.

Categories : MTA Economics, TWU
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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.

Categories : Asides, MTA Politics, TWU
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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.

Categories : TWU
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When the TWU accused the MTA of “negotiating through the media,” union leaders staged a public walk-out from the negotiations and refused to sit down with their authority counterparts for two weeks. Today, as talks were due to start up again, the authority had a chance to respond to union press leaks, and respond they did.

The New York Post reported this morning that the TWU had “won” a key concession from the MTA. Subway drivers may receive three days off following any incident, fatal or not, in which their train strikes a person. Furthermore, conductors could get time off if they observe someone fall between cars or slip between the subway and platform edge. In the past, conductors did not receive such time off, and drivers had to be behind the wheel of a fatal accident to qualify. “Protecting conductors and operators from these horrible incidents underground was one of the main goals,” The Post’s source said.

As TWU President John Samuelsen reacted to an MTA leak, so too did the authority react to a TWU leak. “It is the MTA’s policy not to negotiate through the press,” MTA Chairman Joe Lhota responded in turn. “However, we will not allow inaccurate or leaked statements regarding negotiations to stand as fact. Today’s New York Post story is harmful to the collective bargaining process.” It is unclear if The Post report is accurate or what the TWU may give up in return for these protections, and despite the tense war of words over media reports, sources confirm to me that neither party anticipates a strike even if a deal is not yet on the horizon.

Categories : Asides, TWU
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This morning, it took my 4 train a whopping ten minutes to go from 14th St. to 42nd St., and as the announcements kept blaring about “train traffic ahead of us,” my mind wandered to this Daily News article. In the wake of a series of gruesome deaths a few weeks ago, the TWU has told its train drivers to “use extra care” when entering stations due to safety concerns. It’s a perfectly legal move employed during labor negotiations that tend to drive straphangers nuts.

Meanwhile, after two weeks of stewing over “bad faith negotiations” brought about when the TWU objected to an apparent leak of the MTA’s demands, the two sides will resume formal talks on Thursday. While the TWU’s outrage over the MTA’s supposed negotiating tactics has stalled forward progress, MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota says that he and TWU president John Samuelsen have maintained an open line of communication over the past few weeks. A deal though is still not on the horizon, but neither is a strike.

For a full glimpse at the MTA’s demands, check out this pdf. They range from benefit reductions to operational improvements, but OPTO, sadly, is not among them.

Categories : Asides, TWU
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During the 2005 transit strike, the MTA had to chain off the entire subway system. (Photo by flickr user h-bomb)

It’s now been 15 days the TWU’s current contract with the MTA expired. In the intervening two weeks, the two sides have gone through the public spectacle of negotiations with one side — the TWU — walking away for a few days in dramatic fashion and the other leaking some demands. As John Samuelsen and Joe Lhota work to find a resolution, the union president says he won’t rule out a strike, but a peaceful resolution is the more likely path toward a new labor pact.

For New Yorkers, even the talk of a transit strike is enough to send us back to those cold three days in 2005 when the subways did not run. Just over six years ago, the TWU, defying the law, did indeed strike, and New Yorkers were left without subway service as Christmas neared. As I was for New York’s defining moments of the first decade of the 21st Century, I missed the transit strike. I was in D.C. that week, not due back in New York for a few more days, and by the time I returned to the city, the strike was over. Today, I want to revisis that strike.

Those days in December were heady times for the MTA and the TWU. Concerned with out-year budget projections of steep deficits, the MTA wanted to cut labor costs. In order to restrain pension spending, the authority proposed pension cuts and called upon the TWU to allow conductors to walk through train cars. It was viewed by many as another step along the path toward conductorless cars, and the union balked.

The city began to prepare for a costly strike as negotiations dragged on, and even though the TWU rank and file authorized a strike, analysts were skeptical. Such a strike would, many said, be in violation of the Taylor Law, and the leadership would be risking a lot by leading a strike. The city, meanwhile, was preparing to throw the book at anyone who struck illegally.

As business owners tried to arrange alternate transportation for their workers, the MTA continued to enjoy a December of cut rates. That winter, you may recall, the authority used an end-of-year surplus to offer $1 rides for all pay-per-ride straphangers. It all came to head on December 20, though, as union leadership decided to strike after failing to reach an agreement with the MTA.

With temperatures in the upper 20s, straphangers had to battle the elements and massive crowds as cab share plans were initiated and car trips into Manhattan were carefully limited. A state judge levied massive fines against the TWU as an organization and against its leadership personally for the strike. The Times called it an “unnecessary strike.”

On Day Two of the strike, New Yorkers grew weary. Traffic marred the streets while many simply worked from home. It was a cold winter day for tourists, shoppers, business people and families who could not escape the confines of their neighborhood, and Judge Theodore T. Jones threatened then-TWU President Roger Toussaint with jail time over the strike. On the third day, after 60 excruciating hours, the strike ended. State mediators had convinced the two sides to work toward a deal, and the MTA seemed willing to grant generous raises while dropping demands to raise the retirement age from 55 to 62. The TWU seemed willing to take an increase in pension contributions as well.

Across the city, businesses bemoaned the losses with lost revenue estimated at half a billion dollars. Roger Toussaint faced a short jail sentence, and the union lost its ability for automatic dues check-offs. Eventually, leadership agreed not to authority illegal strikes in exchange for the restoration of that right, but it took the TWU a few years to recover from that strike.

Today, as the MTA is demanding a net-zero labor increase, and the union wants some small raise in its contract, the two sides are at different places than they were six years ago. The union seemingly recognizes the MTA’s financial situation, and the MTA will hold a firm line while keeping dialogue moving forward. The last strike was a reminder of how reliant the city is on its subway system, and while, with no deal in place, the vague threat hovers above the negotiations, I doubt we’ll see a repeat of 2005 any time soon.

Categories : TWU
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The Transport Workers Union Local 100 has pulled out of talks with the MTA over claims that that the authority is attempting to negotiate through the media, according to reports. After an article appeared in today’s Daily News charting the MTA’s demands in light of the union’s request for a raise, TWU President John Samuelsen said he would banter through the press. “You had bus operators, track workers, signal maintainers, reading the newspaper today, with a better grasp of what the MTA was going to do with the negotiation committee of the union than the leadership of the union,” he said, “and that’s an outrage.”

According to The Daily News, the MTA appeared willing to budge on the union’s request for a one-percent raise this year and next, but its demands were high. The MTA had wanted to change overtime rules to kick in after a 40-hour work week rather than an eight-hour work day and had planned to demand part-time bus drivers, less vacation time and revised health care plans. Raises too will come with other work rule changes as well.

For its part, the MTA denied negotiating through the press, and TWU leaders said they would be willing to resume talks eventually. For now, we wait.

Categories : Asides, TWU
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