Home Transit LaborATU New TWU head gearing up for layoff battle

New TWU head gearing up for layoff battle

by Benjamin Kabak

Recently elected TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen poses outside of MTAHQ on Wednesday. (Photo via the Daily News)

As part of the MTA’s planned service cuts, the authority is trying to spread the pain around. We know that Transit is trying to minimize the disruptive nature of their necessary cuts. We know that the MTA’s administration budget will be reduced by 10 percent and that everyone will have to take a paycut. We also know that the agency is going to try to eliminate 700 union jobs. The TWU will not, according to new president John Samuelsen, go down without a fight.

Speaking in front of MTA Headquarters on Wednesday shortly before the authority’s board met to discuss the service cuts, Samuelsen lobbed some charges at the executives. “This document was obviously written by accountants, bean counters, people who obviously don’t ride our system and who don’t understand that these cuts are negatively impacting hundreds of thousands of New York’s working families and their children,” Samuelsen said. “They’re clueless.”

Samuelsen, according to Pete Donohue, also called upon the MTA to eschew their countdown clock program in favor of covering operating deficits. It is this attitude that will result in a transit policy and a transit system stuck in neutral, and as we know, the agency as no plans right now to shift any capital money to cover its operating deficit.

At a time when the MTA is suffering in the eyes of a skeptical public, his rhetoric rings a certain bell. He knows that the MTA’s proposed service cuts were written by people very much in tune with the system. That’s why the proposal is designed to limit the number of passengers and riders it impacts. He knows that MTA officials aren’t clueless. But he also knows that he’s going to have to fight for the jobs. Right now, despite the fact that wage increases for TWU workers is contributing to the MTA’s deficit gap, Samuelsen is clearly winning the war of the words.

On a more practical level, though, Samuelsen and new MTA CEO and Chair Jay Walder are going to try to work together to address the MTA’s deficit. City Hall News’ Chris Bragg profiled Samuelsen yesterday, and his piece adds a level of complexity missing in the Daily News’ coverage of the TWU head’s public comments.

Samuelsen and Walder recently met for the first time, and the two have pledged, according to Bragg, to work together. Walder — known for being hard on labor during his days in London — had a more optimistic assessment of the potential relationship between the two men. “He has pledged to [work together], and I have pledged to do so,” he said. “But we’re both new to our jobs, so we’re finding our way.” But Samuelsen countered, “We have diametrically opposite positions on a whole array of issues. It’s not going to be personally hostile. But we’re not going to just roll over, either.”

Samuelsen is taking over the TWU after a few tumultuous years of labor relations with the MTA. Roger Toussaint’s decision to strike in 2005 cost the union dearly, and Samuelsen vows to avoid making the same mistakes of capitulation. Still, some observers think the two new heads will see a thaw in their early discourse. “Roger Toussaint came into office with a reputation as a firebrand kind of guy too,” Bill Henderson, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, said to Bragg. “Eventually, the relationship changed.”

Right now, Samuelsen’s job is to save 700 of the 37,000 workers over whom he is in charge from getting the axe. He’ll try everything in his power to save 1.8 percent of his workforce from the unemployment lines because he knows what giving into the MTA will mean. As the authority fights for its money, the war — one that will probably end on a reconciliatory note — is just getting started.

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John January 28, 2010 - 10:01 am

I like the idea of unions, but I don’t like when they get this idea that they should be immune to layoffs or whatever their argument is. If the MTA is cutting costs across the board, why shouldn’t the unions be affected by this? Maybe they could give up their raises to keep their jobs……..

David Robertson January 28, 2010 - 10:03 am

Walder now wants a fight, well he will get one from Local 100 [they are itching for it] – Toussaint was labelled a thug by Bloomberg, the local 100 are savvy too, they elected a caucasian leadership who can talk nicely and I will bet a $1 Bloomberg will never call Samuelsen a thug and it will not be splashed all over the local newspapers – for Samuelsen [now it is his time, he can not claim Toussaint this and Toussaint that – now it is Samuelsen & Walder let the fight begin] this will be his first litmus test to save the 700 union jobs if he can not deliver forget about it the membership will not tolerate that and then add oncoming contract negotiations of 2011 that will make him or break him, if he fail in those two rounds – I will bet $2 the membership will send him back to his old job as a track inspector and local 100 will elect one who can deliver

Elliot Lee Sander was Spitzer appointee – he was brought in with the mandate to have harmony between the labor and management and move the MTA forward he was policy-savvy & highly respected however Mr. Sheldon Silver & governor Paterson removed Spitzers’ appointees, Walder name was not in the mix in the leadership race.

Disclaimer, I am friend, colleague & fan of Elliot Lee Sander

Benjamin Kabak January 28, 2010 - 10:42 am

I’m pretty certain that neither Samuelsen nor Walder wants a fight. Walder is speaking in tones of reconciliation because that’s what his role is, and Samuelsen is speaking tougher now because he has to protect the jobs. It’s just posturing.

Boris January 28, 2010 - 11:37 am

Why is it so hard for the two men to admit reality and say that they both got screwed by Albany? Nothing will work as well as a strong union lobbying for more money for the MTA.

Alon Levy January 28, 2010 - 11:56 am

Because American unions are culturally disposed to attack their own management and their customers above all else.

Russell Warshay January 28, 2010 - 1:56 pm

Thanks for sharing that. I wasn’t aware that American unions were different in this regard. Do you know if another nation’s unions were once as combative, but shifted to a more moderate posture? if so, do you know what facilitated this?

Marc Shepherd January 28, 2010 - 12:19 pm

That’s absolutely right. Unless Samuelsen is much smarter in private than he is showing in public, he is showing he has absolutely no clue about the system he purports to be speaking for.

Instead of directing his ire at the MTA, he should be directing it at Albany. That is where the problem comes from.

Benjamin Kabak January 28, 2010 - 12:21 pm

That’s a really good point, Boris. I wonder what could happen if the two just joined forces from the get-go to appeal to Albany. Neither side seems to be exploiting this situation in a particularly political way.

Mike January 28, 2010 - 1:48 pm

If the union and management teamed up against Albany they would be working together and building better labor relations. This is NOT the agenda of the agency because Sander was working towards better relations with the work force and it got him fired.

David Robertson January 28, 2010 - 2:00 pm

Samuelsen has to deliver to his membership before anything else, he is caught between a rock and hard place. Samuelsen first bout is the 700 union jobs which you clearly pointed they will get the axe, his credibility in the eyes of the membership is in the balance.

Russell Warshay January 28, 2010 - 2:06 pm

Even if no additional funding came from such an effort, joining in that fight would get the MTA and TWU on common ground. Working together, rather than reflexively going into a combative stance, just might get a solution that is easier to live with for both sides.

David Robertson January 28, 2010 - 2:14 pm

The membership is boisterous try to explain that to them and they will respond to you loudly and clearly – especially how Wlader continues to withhold their raise.

Benjamin Kabak January 28, 2010 - 2:16 pm

Walder isn’t withholding their raise for last year or this year any longer. Do they understand that as well?

David Robertson January 28, 2010 - 2:20 pm

They will understand it when they see it in their paycheck

Francis January 28, 2010 - 6:02 pm

I don’t understand the concept of “sharing the pain” between the workers and the riders. The MTA’s duty is to deliver the greatest possible mobility to the riders at the least cost. The workers are not a charity and if they are not productive they have no business collecting salaries. If there are costs that can be cut without affecting mobility, then they must be cut. Now any public rider can observe vast amounts of costs that can be cut without affecting mobility — two people to run every train, $100,000/yr clerks to make change for nobody in the middle of the night. And without doubt an equal amount of the same in the part of the system out of public view. The union may fight a holding action against the inevitable, but it’s only a question of time before either wasteful costs get cut or the service disappears.

Ray January 28, 2010 - 10:41 pm

Any idea what the actual contract between the MTA and the TWU says? Will MTA breach by furloughing workers when services are discontinued?

Mike January 29, 2010 - 10:39 am

The TA is permitted to layoff workers by contract.


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