It was just a week and a half ago that the Transit Workers Union promised not to strike again. A new day had dawned for the MTA and its labor relations.
But as with all good things, it wasn’t meant to be. Over the weekend, Pete Donohue dropped a twin bombshell: The MTA may eliminate 600 token booth workers, and the agency would like to offer up raises of just 1.5 percent next year. The TWU, as anyone may imagine, was not too happy with this development.
First, the news about the station workers:
The MTA’s doomsday budget includes closing many subway token booths and eliminating the program that shifted some agents into stations to help riders, the Daily News has learned. Dozens of booths would be shuttered if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board approves the plan next month and implements it next year, a source familiar with the document said.
Also on the chopping block is the three-year-old Station Customer Assistant program that moved approximately 600 clerks out of their booths to help riders with MetroCard vending machines and directions, the source said…
Transit officials have said layoffs are on the table, but it’s unclear if those 600 or so agents would get pink slips or be redeployed.
The MTA has yet to comment on this issue, and it’s quite possible that this so-called “doomsday budget” never comes to pass. But hand in hand with this news was a retort from the TWU about a potentially lower-than-normal salary increase:
The cash-strapped MTA plans to help balance its books by skimping on raises for its workers next year, financial plans show. Agency bean counters predict the MTA can save $40 million by limiting 2009 raises for the Transit Workers Union to less than 1.5%.
“Their position is ridiculous, and it won’t happen,” TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint told the Daily News.
Toussaint, ever the politician, fired a salvo at the MTA over the Daily News’ unsourced report. “This is the first time they are putting into the public space, and into the airwaves, this type of garbage,” he said.
Personally, I’m not quite sure what the MTA stands to gain with the current red-vest station assistance program. While these workers lend subway stations a modicum of safety, the vast majority of reports have these employees refusing to offer assistance when asked, and of course, a good many of them seem to sleep on on the job.
Of course, the other side of the coin is a dangerous one. If the MTA upsets the TWU, things could get ugly in a hurry. We remember, not so fondly, the subway strike in 2005. A repeat of that dark time would be a bit disastrous for a city teetering on the brink of economic collapse.
Right now, though, the jury is still out. Later this week, we’ll know more about the MTA’s concrete proposals, and only then can we — and Roger Toussaint — really analyze the situation. Until then, we wait.