Home Transit LaborTWU TWU roundup: A legal fight, bus mirrors and dirty stations

TWU roundup: A legal fight, bus mirrors and dirty stations

by Benjamin Kabak

I’ve been sitting on a few TWU-related stories over the past week, and none of them are long enough to warrant a separate post. So in the grand style of the link roundups we post periodically at River Ave. Blues, I present a TWU link roundup.

‘Pushy’ conductor wins legal fight

Our first story comes to us from Pete Donohue. He reports that the New York Court of Appeals ruled that a subway conductor who was accused of pushing a passenger after a heated exchange of words in 2006 cannot be fired. The MTA had initially tried to fire Jack Grissett after he fired a homophobic slur at a passenger and then, in Donohue’s words, “‘forcefully’ put his hands on the man.” At the time, an arbitration panel had recommended a two-month suspension without pay, and the Court determined that the arbitration ruling should stand and that the MTA owes Grissett backpay as well. The MTA had won at both the Supreme Court and Appellate level.

While Donohue and his sources portray this to be an example of wasteful MTA expenditures on legal fees, I have a different take on it. It reaches more to the power of the unions and the MTA’s inability to fire its employees acts most workplaces would not tolerates. As PSAs throughout the system remind us, if a rider assaults an MTA employee, the penalty could be up to seven years in jail. Yet, if an MTA employee is found to be guilty of similar behavior, a two-month suspension is a sufficient punishment.

Bus mirrors inadequate, says drivers

According to a Heather Haddon report in amNew York, a few express bus drivers say that replacement mirrors are inadequate and could put pedestrians at risk. Union leaders claim that the MTA’s decision to replace broken mirrors with “a more affordable model” is a flawed one because the mirrors do not allow drivers to see people on the streets or those running for the bus. While Transit officials say the mirrors “meet or exceed” safety specifications, one bus depot in Brooklyn fielded 20 complaints last month alone.

With funds tight, station cleaning shifts go unfilled

For the last few years, the MTA has threatened to eliminate station cleaning crews as a way of saving money. The current setup, Transit officials have claimed, is an inefficient use of manpower. Now, TWU leaders say that cleaning shifts are going unfilled. According to another Heather Haddon article, Transit has let cleaning shifts go unfilled when workers call in sick. She writes, “On a Monday earlier this month, 138 cleaning shifts had vacancies, with less than a fifth of them getting filled through overtime, according to transit documents.”

For the MTA, this is one way to save on overtime pay, but for the rest of us, we’re left with stations dirtier and grimier than usual. Meanwhile, despite promises from MTA heads to improve station cleanliness, the agency plans to save $6 million by eliminating 83 cleaners this year. Perhaps those naming rights deals should resemble Adopt-a-Station plans instead with the money going toward cleaning efforts.

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Scott E February 19, 2010 - 12:39 pm

Is overtime the only way to cover the shift of someone who calls out sick? When I had a part-time job in high school, I was often called in to cover for someone who couldn’t make it, yet I still didn’t exceed 40 hours per week or 8 hours per day. Does the MTA not have any part-time cleaners that can fill-in without getting OT? Would the union allow it?

Benjamin Kabak February 19, 2010 - 12:43 pm

Not sure. Someone will more knowledge than I have of the MTA work rules would have to answer it. I don’t see how they could fill it with non-overtime hours though because ideally your other cleaners are working a full schedule of 40 hours a week, right?

I guess they could have part-time workers. That I don’t know.

Josh K February 19, 2010 - 1:30 pm

The idea of an “Adopt-a-Station” isn’t a bad idea. If the big, busiest stations were “Adopted” then existing funds could go toward the smaller stations with no big businesses near by.

pb February 19, 2010 - 1:47 pm

Umm, how about all the station cleaners that do nothing? I got off at Jamaica center and there were all these cleaners but they were hanging around talking. 8 trains pulled in and out and they went in and sat on the seats and didn’t sweep!! Now I ask, why are they getting away with this? They don’t work 40hrs, they work maybe 15hrs and crap on the system the other 25hrs.

Mike Smith February 19, 2010 - 1:54 pm

Those cleaners you are talking about are CAR cleaners not station cleaners. They work for a different department and there job is to clean the trains. I highly doubt that you sat there and watched what they did while 8 trains pulled in and out.

Russell Warshay February 19, 2010 - 2:00 pm

Why is there such a rigid distinction between car and station cleaners?

Mike Smith February 19, 2010 - 4:11 pm

The only thing I can think of is because they are 2 different departments. Each department has it’s own HUGE amount of management that must try to justify why they have a job so they are not often willing to work with the other dept’s.

pete February 19, 2010 - 4:28 pm

One uses power washers with long hoses going to a truck on the street, the other has a broom and a dustpan.

Mike Smith February 19, 2010 - 4:50 pm

The ones with the trucks are “mobile wash” teams. They are a part of the stations department. The cleaners that clean the trains in the terminals and yards are part of car equipment department.

Tacony Palmyra February 19, 2010 - 4:41 pm

I kinda want to clean my home station myself. I have to deal with the filth every day so I really would do it for free. I’ve considered whether anybody would stop me if I got a roll of paper towels and some household cleaner and started wiping down the walls. It’s so grimy, especially as you go further down the platform from the stairwells. I’m pretty sure nobody has cleaned it in many years.

Michael February 20, 2010 - 10:00 am

“if a rider assaults an MTA employee, the penalty could be up to seven years in jail. Yet, if an MTA employee is found to be guilty of similar behavior, a two-month suspension is a sufficient punishment.”

In fact, if the employee had been found taken to a court and found guilty of assault, he could have gone to prison and would surely have lost his job. But, evidently either his actions were not as serious as the MTA has made out or there was insufficient evidence to the actions of which he was accused. You do not know what actually occurred, only what the TA alleges, but whatever he did was not enough for him to face any criminal charges.

Arbitration is a different type of action with different, less formal rules and consequences. The employee has fewer rights and the arbitrator has for latitude than in a court of law (for example, he may consider hearsay, which would be barred in a courtroom).

The conductor had been working at the TA for 21 years and had a clean record. Evidently, the arbitrator felt that the 2 month suspension was sufficient for whatever infraction the TA proved.


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