Home Service Cuts Inside the TWU’s thinking as Rome burns

Inside the TWU’s thinking as Rome burns

by Benjamin Kabak

TWU head John Samuelsen outside of the MTA HQ. Photo via the Daily News.

As the MTA has dealt with a budget deficit of $751 million this year, the authority has asked everyone to chip in. The agency is enacting nearly $100 million in service cuts to the city’s bus and subway network at the end of June; it plans to layoff numerous employees, some unionized and some not; it’s also searching high and low for new ways to cut administrative costs. With fare hikes seemingly off the table until 2011 and no more service cuts coming our way, the MTA’s ability to cover its deficit without a new source of revenue remains tenuous at best.

This week, the MTA unveiled plans to layoff even more workers come Independence Day. According to a report in The Times today, the authority will axe 550 employees who work on buses. Those pink slips will be handed out on June 27th when the city loses dozens of bus routes. Another 120 subway car inspectors will be fired as well.

Union officials, of course, spoke out against the cuts. John Samuelsen, head of TWU Local 100, said that his union will “not [] be blackmailed into allowing Jay Walder and MTA management to gut our contract.” Implicit in that statement is the belief that the MTA wouldn’t fire these workers if the TWU gave up the raises it has earned that will cost the MTA nearly $100 million this year.

Samuelsen instead would prefer to see the MTA shift stimulus funds to cover the operating deficit, and in an extensive interview with Streetsblog’s Ben Fried yesterday, he said as much. Walder and the MTA were given a billion dollars in federal stimulus money in 2009. Out of that billion dollars they could have used roughly $100 million to pay down the service cuts and to use for the operating budget,” he said. “So Walder, who had that money in the bank, and probably still has that money in the bank, refused to use that $100 million, and instead enacted $93 million in cuts across the board, Long Island Railroad, Metro North, and New York City Transit, and MTA bus.”

When asked by Streetsblog what he is doing in Albany with the power of the union to help the MTA, he spoke about forcing Walder to spend: “One thing we’ve done is we’re working on a bill in Albany that’s being carried by Joan Millman in the Assembly, and by Bill Perkins in the Senate, that will force the MTA to use 30 million of that available 100 million. It’s essentially the state legislature directing Jay Walder to use available funds that he has in order to stop the service cuts.”

Yet, Samuelsen is missing the forest for the trees. Will $30 million taken from the capital budget — the underfunded capital budget that supports numerous jobs throughout the state — make a difference in the MTA’s bottom line? That $30 million represents less than 5 percent of the agency’s overall deficit, the MTA would still be enacting service cuts and layoffs. Throwing a cup of water on a fire won’t stop the flames.

Meanwhile, Samuelsen is using his labor clout to push a bill that would “put a two year moratorium on any kind of service cut that the MTA proposes that could have a potential negative impact on rider safety in the subway.” Who will fund this measure, I wonder? The answer: Without more service, the MTA will have to enact higher fares.

While the TWU seems to be exploring legal options to restore the money the state stole from the MTA toward the end of 2009, the union is in no hurry to support revenue-generating proposals. When it comes to congestion pricing, Samuelsen said, “there’s a recognition by the union that we don’t want to hurt middle or working class people that have to drive their cars into Manhattan, or small business owners. But there’s also a recognition on our part that that’s an excellent funding mechanism for mass transit, and that it’s green, it’s good for the economy. And we’re down with that. So we’re still debating that amongst ourselves, what our exact position is going to be on that.”

The debate should be over. The only middle or working class people or small business owners who drive to Manhattan on a regular basis are those who can afford to pass the costs of congestion fee onto their customers. Plumbers, delivery men and other service-based drivers will simply up their costs while enjoying higher productivity due to decreased production. The overwhelming number of middle or working class New Yorkers simply do not drive into Manhattan on a daily basis, and most don’t own cars to begin with. The strawman should not defeat common sense.

In a way, it’s not surprising to see this reaction from Samuelsen. His number one priority is to defend his union members and their jobs. I’d be surprised if he weren’t trying to force through legislation that mandates the MTA to keep workers in stations, but at the same time, he has to recognize reality: The MTA is broke and staffs at levels that are far higher than necessary. We don’t need two-person teams running trains; we don’t need a person at every station entrance 24 hours a day. We don’t need antiquated work rules.

What we need is flexibility and a willingness to bend in the face of an unprecedented economic crisis. While I’ll be living with reduced service in two months, what will the union do with its political power? What will it give up?

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Alon Levy April 29, 2010 - 7:34 am

That whole interview is weird. Samuelsen spends minimal time talking about pay or congestion pricing or bus enforcement – i.e. issues that matter to union members. Instead he goes on long rants about how Walder’s $100 million would magically plug the $700 million budget hole. He seems to perceive Walder as a big bogeyman, and cares about little other than not letting him impose any of his foreign ideas of efficiency on New York.

Older and Wiser May 2, 2010 - 3:51 am

But if Walder’s 100 million woudn’t plug that $700 million budget hole, neither would nixing the TWU’s $100 million wage increase fill the hole either.

The MTA will always be off the tracks as long as each new generation of MTA executives continues to view themselves as being primarily in the big time real estate and construction industries, the enviable turf of the billionaires they wish they were. The messy job of actually running trains and buses on a shoe string they leave to tough old school guys like NYCT’s Prendergast.

They will wreck the system in a futile attempt to bust unions and make the MTA operating budget as lean as a Guatemalan shirt factory, even while refusing to price their product in a rational manner or tap into money set aside for dream schemes like ESA and the Fulton Street subway stop that’s costing more than Yankee Stadium to build.

David Robertson April 29, 2010 - 7:36 am

Your observation about Samuelsen are accurate – it did not take you long to figure him out ‘Yet, Samuelsen is missing the forest for the trees’ ‘ Throwing a cup of water on a fire won’t stop the flames.’ ‘Inside the TWU’s thinking as Rome burns’
Now Walder has made the same observation and assessed Samuelsen character that there is no substance. Congratulations, when you graduate from the law school, you will be a good judge of character and their substance, he is the myth of Sisyphus.  

I bet $1 Samuelsen did not read Walder ideas in the Making Every Dollar Count report, which are basic efficiency improvements, and start tackling it bit by bit I.e. Why not offer same and equal payouts for the union workers who are close to retirement? Where is the 10 percent pay cut for the administrative that would have saved $28.6 million in annual reductions? Eliminate the layers of managerial fats (those non essential official plated cars that cost over $70k that are being used by administrators to go get their $200 bagels & $20,000 fresh sushi). Hire new employees that is a sure way to reduce cost, go along with the congestion pricing & payroll tax.

Samuelsen perhaps only effective option would be to index the future contract with the standard of living & inflation that would put a stop on Walder’s ‘Labor Unions must make concessions’ illusions. If the price of tuna, milk, wonder bread and gas goes up so does the contract.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines April 29, 2010 - 9:10 am

[…] Why in God's Name Is the TWU Still Debating Congestion Pricing? (SAS) […]

amw April 29, 2010 - 9:17 am

Hey, instead of attacking some of the few decent jobs left in NY, why not publish an article about how the MTA pays BILLIONS in debt service to banks? You quibble over a few hundred million that would come from straight from the heart of WORKERS while BANKERS reap billions.

Trains don’t need two person crews? Stations don’t need attendants? This is madness! These are good jobs and yes, they do make a difference to straphangers. Why are you so willing to plunge even MORE working class people into despair?!?

Let’s see something about debt service.

Chris April 29, 2010 - 9:24 am

Wait, cutting atttendants and moving to OPTO would plunge working class people into despair? Please. Most straphangers would never even notice a difference. You know what actually would “plunge MORE working class people into despair?” Raising fares and cutting service because the union refuses to make consessions during a funding crisis.

Also, please define “working class.” Last I checked, most “working class” people don’t have cushy benefits and pensions.

Alon Levy April 29, 2010 - 9:31 am

Trains don’t need two-person crews. Sorry. They run all over the world with one-person crews.

Sure, all those redundant jobs pay well, but so do anti-union consultant jobs. I’m going to guess that you’re not going to advocate that Wal-Mart retain its anti-union consultants employed.

Al D April 29, 2010 - 10:05 am

The huge debt service you refer to stems from the unfunded and underfunded capital programs thanks to Pataki mostly and Giuliani to a lesser extent. Everybody with any sense back then knew that the bill would come due 1 day, and here we are. Don’t borrow if you cannot pay back. So I think that you are a decade and half too late on this one. Good luck trying to get a bank, who made a loan in good faith, to forgive debt. This was not a Ponzi scheme or a bait and switch mortgage backed security or a Goldman bet. MTA simply overborrowed to pay for necessary work.

Benjamin Kabak April 29, 2010 - 10:34 am

I’ve written extensively about debt service in the past, blaming the Republican lawmakers who forced the MTA to take on crippling debt. What more is there to say? The MTA can’t default on its debt service payments. It’s a bit of a moot point.

Bolwerk April 29, 2010 - 7:13 pm

Just exactly why do you think the MTA pays BILLIONS in debt service to banks? Think it might have something to do with work rules that allow nonsense like two-person crews, 24/7 station attendants,* etc.?

* worst of all: total inflexibility. Maybe 14th Street needs a 24/7 attendant, but why the hell should Forest Avenue (in a part of Queens that almost passes for suburban)? Maybe two-person crews make some sense sometimes on busy lines during rush hour, but they aren’t needed all the time.

Sharon May 1, 2010 - 11:19 pm

“Just exactly why do you think the MTA pays BILLIONS in debt service to banks? ”

The mta is not paying the debt service to the banks but rather to the bond holders which include average every day new yorkers and pension funds. The mta pays fees to the banks to issue and underwrite these bonds.

Every dollar we spent of the surplus a few years back to “preserve” station agents at secondary entrances cost us the un needed expense plus interest. The sad part was there was no danger to the riders because many of these entrances already had no agent on duty for most of the day.

I wish the public knew how much keeping conductors on most trains costs and how there rider would improve if they were gone. IF the mta would be allowed to take conductors off trains at night, they could run shorter trains at 12 min waits instead of 20 min waits at a lower overall cost. Although train operators cost a bit more per hour it is the benefits cost that tips the scale. Hey it may even attract more riders.

Paulp April 29, 2010 - 9:25 am

Your take on this issue is just plain wrong. To say the only people who would be affected by Congestion pricing is plumbers etc…is silly if you check out the numbers of cars streaming into manhattan on a daily basis. Few, very few are commercial vehicles.In fact it is exactly opposite of what you state. By in large the people affected by the congestion pricing will be the middle and working class.
As for using 10% of stimulus money for operating casts you miss the point entriely: Transit systems countrywide have used this approach to balance their budget. MTA refuses to. MTA cost over runs on the second ave subway alone would go a long way to balancing the budget. Javits exetension too. Huge dubious capital programs that put the MTA into the hole it is in today.
Just to show you what the MTA is really like, they promised an across the board 10% salary cut for management. And said they everyone would share the pain. No so. On March 10, 2010 MTA sent out a letter to their managers stating ” we have been able to avoid implenting the 10% reduction in pay”. Typical MTA.
Everyone shares the pain except those managers making the big dollars.
Sammuelsen inherited a sinking ship, he is doing his best to plug the holes and protect his people.

AK April 29, 2010 - 10:09 am

So many things to say, but here are two for starters:

1. The MTA isn’t responsible for funding/pushing through the 7-line extension, the City is.

2. 10% of stimulus money would close a miniscule portion of the deficit. You want to use that, fine, but offer some solutions for the other $700 million funding gap.

3. You are just flat out wrong about cars over bridges. As Ben has noted many times, as of the last census, 54% of New York City households do not own or lease a motor vehicle. Manhattanites are the most car-free; 78% of households there do not have a vehicle. In the Bronx, the car-free share of households is 60%. Brooklyn is also majority car-free, with 54%. Only Queens and Staten Island have car-free minorities: 34% and 20%, respectively.

Here is a district-by-district breakdown of commuting patterns:


The study concludes: “In every New York City Council district, the vast majority of workers would not be affected by a congestion pricing fee as they do not drive to work alone in what would become the congestion pricing zone (Manhattan below 86th Street). In none of the 51 City Council districts do more than 7.2% of workers drive alone to the congestion pricing zone, and in only seven districts do more than 5% of workers drive alone to the CPZ. Furthermore, vehicle-owning households in every NYC Council district are wealthier than households without access to a vehicle.”

These are the facts. You can still disagree with congestion pricing/bridge tolling for other reasons, but the facts are just unassailable.

Sharon May 1, 2010 - 11:12 pm

“As Ben has noted many times, as of the last census, 54% of New York City households do not own or lease a motor vehicle. ”

That statistic is not an excuse to place yet another burden on working families who need a car to have any kind of quality of life. Some parts of the city cars are not needed and then there are large parts of the city where the only people who do not have cars are those in the projects and illegal immigrants. Although many of us in theses area’s take the subway into the city to work we also drive into the city at night and on weekends to for pleasure. East river tolls would be pushing us over the edge. Brooklynites are already cut off from staten island by the $11 toll which has gone up 200% faster then subway fare just to pay the twu a raise and to keep unneeded conductors and staion agents who together if you count benefit cost nearly $1 billion a year in costs. We are already overtaxed to support the welfare class who in most cases have no interest in bettering themselves. back these people out of your numbers and it does not look as one sided. The fact is that transit service is too slow an infrequent at night and on weekends forcing us to drive in. My rule is if I am coming home after 10 pm I drive in. Many of us have to take a train to a bus. 20 min wait for train (plus local service in brooklyn taking on more time) then wait for a bus that never comes.

I supported the congestion pricing plan as it only was in effect during business hours

Alon Levy May 1, 2010 - 11:50 pm

People who moved from one country to a richer one against the law, often taking jobs below their skill level, are the very definition of people who have an “interest in bettering themselves.” They just better themselves in ways you don’t approve of. And, you know what? Nobody asked you. The car-owning middle class does not own the city; there are plenty of residents who don’t share your values and have as much say over what happens here as you do.

AK May 3, 2010 - 9:17 am

I would only add, Sharon, that if you can get on the subway to go to work, you can get on the subway to go to Manhattan at night/on weekends. You choose to drive because, for you, it is more convenient. However, surely you understand that your choice has negative consequences, and that many of those consequences are imposed on others…

Rob April 29, 2010 - 9:30 am

What does anyone expect of this guy? It is a union after all and this is the problem with the unions in this country. We saw it with the doorman union. They dont want to do their share and they are all in President Obama’s back pocket.

Rob April 29, 2010 - 9:31 am

If you dont like the union, don’t vote for democrats..plain and simple.

Al D April 29, 2010 - 10:06 am

Sorry but we had a Republican governor for 12 years, a Republican mayor for 8, and a Republican and now Independent mayor for another 9.

Al D April 29, 2010 - 10:09 am

This fella is living large like it’s 1976 all over again. The reality is that municipal unions, the last real holdouts of organized labor, generally speaking, have lost power over the years. The TWU is about to learn a painful lesson in economics, and I don’t think that the tried and true union tactics of work stoppages are going to garner sympathy. Just ask Mr. Toussaint. So let him pretend he is living in another time. He is in a for a rather rude wake up call.

Rob April 29, 2010 - 10:15 am

Sorry, but Bloomberg is hardly independent. It’s called RINO. And Pataki is barely a republican. He is partially responsible for this mess. But President Obama and the unions are like dreamy lovers under a clear blue sky.

Alon Levy April 29, 2010 - 10:19 am

If Pataki is “barely” a Republican, I’m scared of thinking what a real Republican is to you. Sarah Palin?

AK April 29, 2010 - 10:38 am

Or Marco Rubio. Pataki/Charlie Crist aren’t nearly conservative enough for the new GOP.

Bolwerk April 29, 2010 - 7:21 pm

They actually aren’t conservative at all. Neither is the broader GOP. The GOP long ago abandoned conservatism in favor of extremism that could probably be described as rather radical.

AK April 30, 2010 - 9:45 am

That’s true, Bolwerk, although you are using an old definition of conservatism that I believe has been bludgeoned by more radical ideology.

Bolwerk April 30, 2010 - 2:55 pm

Perhaps, but I don’t really see how it has any other meaning. Republikans self-describe themselves as “conservative,” but they never even define the terms themselves except in opposition to another undefined term called “liberalism.”

The GOP is really probably too authoritarian to be called conservative or liberal, but going by the academic or even dictionary definitions of either term the Demokrats are closer to “conservative” and Republikans are closer to “liberal.”

Sorry to say, I don’t have anything better to go on.

Bolwerk April 29, 2010 - 7:20 pm

You don’t have to lower yourself to being a Republikan to understand why the TWU’s behavior is selfish and uncalled for, and that there’s serious need for reforming work rules. But that reform needs to come from the state legislature; the MTA board, governor, and city are all impotent without changes to the law.

Yes, Bloomberg is independent, though maybe for the wrong reasons (he’s too rich to be bought). Even so, being a RINO is an improvement over a full-blown case of Republikanism. However, Obama is ideologically almost a Republikan himself. The key difference with Obama is he still has some grip on reality and is not a complete sociopath.

Marty Barfowitz April 29, 2010 - 11:21 am

“There’s also a recognition on our part that that’s an excellent funding mechanism for mass transit, and that it’s green, it’s good for the economy. And we’re down with that. So we’re still debating that amongst ourselves, what our exact position is going to be on that.”

Oh my f’ing God! Are you kidding me? Congratulations to the TWU on coming to this brilliant “recognition” two years too late. Congestion pricing ain’t coming back any time soon, bro. Until something drastically changes in Albany, you’d have to be insane to spend your time, money or political capital pushing for congestion pricing.

Where the heck was Roger Touissant and the TWU when the congestion pricing debate was actually underway? As far as I could tell the TWU was mostly non-existent on the issue when it really mattered. Now the transit system doesn’t have any money and TWU workers are getting laid off left and right. This is not a surprise, people. The TWU was nowhere to be found when it mattered. Nowhere. And now I’m supposed to get behind their two-man train crews and useless station agents sitting inside of bullet-proof glass boxes while train stations molder, trash cans overflow, signage is non-existent, bus lines are eliminated and customer service sucks? Give me a break. Congestion pricing would have immediately brought in $350M in federal money to the bus system and expanded it. But the f’ing TWU couldn’t get behind that. Unreal.

Is there a dumber more self-destructive union in New York state than the TWU? It sure is gonna be tough for those TWU workers to make their car payments now that they don’t have a job. But, hey, enjoy those free East River bridges and your solidarity with the middle and working class motorist who drives in to Manhattan every day, you geniuses.

Alon Levy April 29, 2010 - 11:26 am

Is there a dumber more self-destructive union in New York state than the TWU?

Any union at the commuter railroads, for one. The subway trains are overstaffed by a factor of 2, the commuter trains by a factor of 6. Needless to say, the commuter trains also lose a lot more money.

Marc Shepherd April 29, 2010 - 11:33 am

Basically, this is standard behavior for any union. There isn’t much difference from one to the next.

Justin Samuels April 29, 2010 - 6:52 pm

I’m not a supporter of the congestion pricing. I grew up in Queens, most people who had teacher level jobs or above in big parts of the outer boroughs do have cars.

If the MTA is squandering money, then why in gods name would we given them even more money? If the MTA makes its organization more efficient and convinces the public that they are actually offering good or better service, maybe THEN we can talk about congestion pricing.

As it currently stands no way. A lot of buses in Manhattan run on streets that have subways underneathe, and I’ve been on nearly empty buses that were running when trains weren’t crowded. Those routes need to be taken out of service, plain and simple. I know there are transit buffs who hate the idea of there ever being cutbacks, but if the demand isn’t there, its just not there.

Bolwerk April 30, 2010 - 3:02 pm

Congestion pricing makes sense for its own sake, not for the TWU’s sake. Frankly, the TWU should be pushed out of the picture with their friends in Albany. Still, what’s the point of even having a car if you’re just going to sit in traffic? If it lives up to half its promise, congestion pricing is good for almost every New Yorker who drives, walks, receives deliveries directly or indirectly, or takes buses.

amw April 29, 2010 - 11:50 am

Yes, but why is it against the law for the MTA to default on its debt service, but the TWU is expected to renogtiate a LEGALLY binding contract that punishes its workers? We get screwed while bankers get their profits. Same old story.

Look, I agree that unions are weak. Hell, the reason so many working-class people don’t have cushy jobs and benefits any more (like you mention) is that union leadership turned their back on the working class a long time ago and captiulated to the needs of bosses. But layoffs and cutbacks DO increase despair among workers. The NYT recently ran an article showing that unemployment leads to premature death. What could be more plain?

Marc Shepherd April 29, 2010 - 12:12 pm

The bankers made their profits when the debt was issued initially. Today, that debt is held (in the form of bonds) by millions of different people. I wouldn’t be surprised if your own pension plan is invested in those bonds. They are traditional pension investments, because they are considered historically safe. You might be very surprised at who gets “screwed” if the MTA defaults on those bonds.

In addition, if the MTA defaults, it will be very difficult for them to issue bonds the next time. And rest assured, there will be a next time, because the fools in Albany who insisted on funding the MTA with debt are still there. Defaulting not only puts off solving the real problem, but actually makes it much harder to solve when the day of reckoning finally arrives.

I am sure that layoffs and cutbacks increase despair among workers. Know what? I wasn’t happy when my income went down, either. But the MTA isn’t in the anti-depressant business. If it does not cut bloated staffs and reform antiquated work rules, it cannot make progress.

J B April 29, 2010 - 12:18 pm

The MTA is also legally bound to honor the contract the the TWU, just as the MTA is legally bound to pay off its debt (unless I’m mistaken). Bankers have absolutely no reason to forgive the MTA’s debt, but if the TWU wants to prevent layoffs it could help by renegotiating its contract- which gave its workers raises while everyone else was suffering. It’s well and good to say managers should be paid less, but that could just make matters worse- you will get less competent managers who will be poorly equipped to solve the efficiency problems the MTA is so often blamed for.

petey April 29, 2010 - 1:25 pm

“…the reason so many working-class people don’t have cushy jobs and benefits any more (like you mention) is that union leadership turned their back on the working class a long time ago and captiulated to the needs of bosses.”

i just want to highlight this, as it lies at the root of the union problem (rightly understood) worldwide.

Alon Levy April 29, 2010 - 3:48 pm

No, it’s restricted to the less efficient half of the developed world. In Scandinavia, unions represent the entire working class, not just their members.

petey April 29, 2010 - 9:50 pm

if you’re referring to the SAC, they would like to do that, but until the entire working class is the union, they represent their members. to be clear, i think amw is referring to trade unions (the SAC is not a trade union), who are the great majority of unions worldwide.

but you needn’t go as far as sweden, the IWW is still around …

Alon Levy April 29, 2010 - 10:41 pm

It doesn’t have to be everyone. Nowadays it’s a small majority in most Scandinavian countries. In Germany it’s not even a majority, and if I remember correctly it’s not a majority in the Netherlands and Japan, either.

petey April 30, 2010 - 10:05 am

i no longer follow. first you said
“the entire working class”
now you say
“It doesn’t have to be everyone.”
also, it would help if you mentioned the unions you seem to be referring to, and how “represent the entire working class” would operate, if not in a syndicalist understanding.

Alon Levy April 30, 2010 - 3:34 pm

“Represent the entire working class” = push for schemes that benefit everyone, such as universal health care, pension, and unemployment insurance.

Jill April 29, 2010 - 12:20 pm

Look, the bottom line is if you dont like unions, don’t elect democrats. PERIOD.

Benjamin Kabak April 29, 2010 - 12:27 pm

That’s just an oversimplification of what’s happened in New York with unions over the last 20 years. Which party has held City Hall as more and more unions have gotten undeserved raises and better benefits? (Hint: Not Democrats.)

Bolwerk May 2, 2010 - 10:06 pm

Albany Republikans are about as in bed with unions as Demokrats. On top of that they’re, well, Republikans.

Jill April 29, 2010 - 12:43 pm

I’ll concede that point Ben however, most of the so called Republicans we have had certainly are not and were not “conservative republicans.”

That said, a dem who supports the unions should be someone who doesn’t get a vote..

Benjamin Kabak April 29, 2010 - 12:44 pm

New York never has conservative Republicans, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re still Republicans, no?

Jill April 29, 2010 - 12:53 pm

It does change things. A RINO or moderate is not going to vote the same way a conservative does. Two very different types.

Benjamin Kabak April 29, 2010 - 1:01 pm

If you could olease use the reply button to respond to comments, I would appreciate it. It’s there to improve the flow of comments.

Your argument though is as useful as Samuelsen’s. You’re trying to point fingers at a political party that is not responsible for this mess while ignoring the reality that the union is going to have to give up something – substantial job numbers, undeserved raises, something – for the MTA to close its gap. You can blame whomever you want, but that doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t really matter which party is going to be better or worse in the future. Now, something has to be done.

Jill April 29, 2010 - 1:08 pm

I stated a fact- Liberal Democrats keep the unions in power. Conservatives want to cut the unions out. Conservatives don’t get elected here. That’s fine but you pay the price. I’m not blaming the MTA. I’m blaming the unions. They dont want to do their share. That’s a fact you cant argue.

Marc Shepherd April 29, 2010 - 1:28 pm

I stated a fact- Liberal Democrats keep the unions in power.

But that “fact” just ain’t so. Many of the laws that protect unions are Federal. Even during the years when Republican presidents had Republican majorities in Congress, those laws were largely left alone. Neither George W. Bush nor John McCain had significant anti-union planks in their platforms.

Jill April 29, 2010 - 1:58 pm

Give me a break.

Al D April 29, 2010 - 2:15 pm

But now they’re Conservatives and no longer Republicans? Pataki & Giuliani ruled the roost for a long time, and the unions survived.

Marc Shepherd April 29, 2010 - 2:28 pm

“Breaks” need to be earned. 🙂

Justin Samuels April 29, 2010 - 6:48 pm

Even if MTA salaries went DOWN, you would STILL see big cuts in service.

New York City has majorly axed its public transportation network before. The second and third avenue els were town down, and a number of els that went through Brooklyn were never replaced by subways. And the trolleys were all destroyed.

The city is also laying off teachers, social workers, reducing numbers of cops and firemen, as the state lays off employees too.

For various reasons, cut in corporate taxes, a bad economy and therefore lower tax revenue, the state doesn’t have the income that it used to have. So something has to be cut, unless the state can get in more revenue.

Tax revenues would increase if the big companies decided to move more work back to New York City and New York state. But why higher a New Yorker to do customer service when one can get an Indian in Mumbai for so much cheaper?

Josh K April 29, 2010 - 3:12 pm

We need to stop arguing over the crumbs and look at the huge pie.
NYC based trans-national corporations like JPMorganChase or Goldman Sachs are reaping huge profits, while we’re all forced to deal with unemployment, declining real wages and budget cuts.

The MTA is in the hole it is in because of the bipartisan political consensus in City Hall, Albany and Washington, that corporate taxes are bad. They cut corporate taxes to almost nothing, while governments are forced to make do with less revenue (cut taxes and services have to get cut too). So instead of tax revenues subsidizing the MTA’s capital program, they had to borrow that money, AT INTEREST, from the same corporations we cut taxes for.

The first step in fixing this whole mess is to realize that free-market, neo-liberal economic policies are a failure. We need tax Wall St.’s huge profits and use that money to fund the transportation system that allows Wall St. to exist. Imagine all those financial services folks trying to get to the southern tip of Manhattan everyday without mass transit to get them there.

I am unabashedly pro-union. I came out and walked the picket line in solidarity with TWU Local 100 workers when they went on strike. I do believe that there probably is some room for change in the work rules that would help everyone, MTA, TWU and passengers. However, the way to address that is during the contract negotiations. The MTA management signed the contract, they have to deal with the repercussions.

Unions are not the problem. They aren’t greedy or lazy. What they are is a method to defend the standards of living for their members. If you’re upset about your declining standard of living, the solution isn’t to bring them down with you, the answer is to join up with them and raise yourself up to their level. Germany has significantly higher standards of unionization, higher standard of living than the US, safer working conditions, more free time for their families. Germany has one of the largest economies in the world and their corporations are quite profitable. But instead of having a average CEO to average worker pay ratio of 500:1 (do CEO’s really do 500 times more work than their employees?), Germany has a ratio of like 80:1.

So let’s stop bickering amongst ourselves over these tiny crumbs and realize that there’s plenty of money for everything we want. We just have shift the popular discourse.

Once that’s done, then we should kick out EVERYONE in the State Legislature. No exceptions.

Alon Levy April 29, 2010 - 3:51 pm

Josh, before trotting out Germany, you should probably read something about how German unions operate. They accept wage restraint in bad times; in the lost decade of the 1990s, they agreed to wage freezes or small raises, and did not go on strike, to help the country get out of recession. They went back to striking only after economic growth resumed, in the mid-2000s. They are also at the forefront of supporting efficiency improvements, as they make their employers more profitable and allow them to provide more jobs. Thus German trains have one operator and zero conductors, and stations don’t always have agents.

J B April 29, 2010 - 8:21 pm

Any idea why there’s a difference btw German unions and TWU?

nycpat April 30, 2010 - 12:28 am

Yeah. Germany is a real country, where people have a sense of community regardless of politics or social class. So if a German union makes concessions management wouldn’t try to destroy them and pauperize them like here. In the last couple of decades America has been taken over by objectivists. Dog eat dog. Devil take the hind most.
Let’s just get it over with. I’m sure we can make transit jobs part time for $10 an hour. That way the economy will really take off.

Alon Levy May 1, 2010 - 4:11 am

This is almost right. There were about three reasons why the US never had the union-management consensus of Germany or Scandinavia or (for a while) France:

1. There was never a social democratic political consensus in the US as in most of Europe. This is what you’re talking about, more or less, except that the US business class was always this vicious; it was never “taken over” by anyone. 1950s’ GM was as bad as 2000s’ ExxonMobil.

2. The dog-eat-dog style of American business has always existed in the union movement, too. The middle-class unions, such as the AFL, viewed themselves as trade associations, and were brutal to outsiders (including minorities and immigrants: the AFL pushed for the Chinese Exclusion Act more than for the 8-hour workday).

3. Any social benefit in the US faced an uphill battle against Southern racists, as well as people who viewed any social welfare as communist. The racists were the more important opposition; if the Dixiecrats hadn’t voted down social welfare that would help blacks, the US would have had universal health care in the 1940s.

nycpat May 1, 2010 - 1:14 pm

The US business class was less vicious in the 40s-70s. It was regulated by, let’s say, the New Deal consensus. 1950s GM had to talk to Walter Reuther. ExxonMobil owns enough legislators to get what it wants. Alan Greenspan was an objectivist. It seems many of the people who post here read “Atlas Shrugged” in Junior High School and were deeply moved. To blame the Chinese Exclusion Act on the AF of L is ridiculous. The history of health care in America is of course more complicated than that. Sadly, ethnic homogeneity seems a prerequisite for social democracy.

Alon Levy May 1, 2010 - 6:16 pm

Canada is more or less social democratic, with much more ethnic diversity than the US. The same is true in Spain: the ethnic divisions there don’t correspond to American races, but they’re there. In the rest of Europe, immigration has not led to an erosion in the welfare state. The impetus for Thatcherism was white middle-class opposition to unions, not to immigration.

The fact that you’re positing the era of “What’s good for GM is good for America” as some sort of golden age and ignoring the AFL’s role in supporting the Chinese Exclusion Act makes me question your priorities here. Ironically, the TWU’s old leadership would have disagreed with you: Mike Quill was considered a radical for accepting black members; he opposed the merger of the CIO with the AFL, whose unions had tried to fight off the TWU in union elections by fearmongering about blacks taking white jobs.

Atlas Shrugged is irrelevant here. The US business class had thought it was morally superior for making more money since the 19th century (some would say 18th). It played up Horatio Alger stories and lamented that the common people could vote. Ayn Rand provided a pseudo-philosophical basis for its worldview, but she didn’t create it.

nycpat May 2, 2010 - 12:30 am

In the “What’s good for GM” era there WAS a union-management consensus in these United States. The pay disparities between execuctives and labor in that period resemble current rates in Germany,etc.
The Chinese Exclusion act was SEVENTY YEARS before the era I’m alluding to.
Spain kept a lid on ethnic tensions with 40 years of dictatorship and caudilloism, their experience is irrelevant to this 230 year old republic.
Quill was a radical. But in that era which you denigrate, he could sit down with Columbia U. president Eisenhower and work out a good agreement for his workers. Same with mayor Wagner. Now Mayor Bloomberg goes on the radio and questions free passes for transit workers, and Ivy League students have to pressure administrations to pay janitors and security guards a living wage.
This country has taken a wrong turn somewhere. At least for working people.

Alon Levy May 2, 2010 - 2:16 am

The consensus in the 1950s was only within the top corporations, such as GM and Beth Steel; those corporations made sure to scuttle any social benefit plan that would cover everyone, as Europe did, and the AFL did not press the issue. Even in that supposedly equal era, J. K. Galbraith talked of American private affluence and public squalor. While the CEO multiplier was low at the time, inequality was not: the US Gini index bottomed at 39 in 1968 (it’s 47 nowadays), higher than post-Thatcher Britain at 36 and even the whole EU today at 31.

Spain hasn’t been a dictatorship in almost forty years. It actually instituted social democracy around the same time it gave recognition and equal status to minority languages.

nycpat May 2, 2010 - 10:01 am

I wonder what the EU’s Gini would be in 1968. France and Italy’s Gini was in the 40s in 1968.
That era, in america, was certainly more egalitarian than today. Without that broad prosperity the 1965 civil rghts act and the immigration act would have been impossible.

Alon Levy May 2, 2010 - 7:01 pm

No, France and Italy’s Gini was not in the 40s in 1968. It was about the same as today – maybe a bit higher for France and a bit lower for Italy.

The only developed countries other than the US that have breached 40 in modern times are Hong Kong and Singapore.

nycpat May 2, 2010 - 9:13 pm

[ahref=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gini_since_WWII.svg] [/a]

nycpat May 2, 2010 - 9:20 pm
Alon Levy May 3, 2010 - 4:57 am

A lot of the other numbers on the chart you’re linking to are just weird. For example, the chart says Norway had a large reduction in inequality in the 1990s. In reality, the opposite was the case: Norway had a large increase in inequality, so that by 2002, the figure comparable to the American 0.47 figure was 0.37.

Since the graph’s numbers are often flat out wrong, you should start asking yourself which countries are known to have high-40s or low-50s Ginis: the US, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico, China. Now check to see if 1960s’ France looked anything like those countries look today (it didn’t).

nycpat May 3, 2010 - 8:42 am

1,000,000+ pied noir refugees?

Alon Levy May 3, 2010 - 3:11 pm

Those refugees’ children are still around today – there are even more of them. France has very little income mobility and has had no problem ghettoizing its minority. The pieds noirs wouldn’t explain a decrease in inequality.

Niccolo Machiavelli April 29, 2010 - 6:01 pm

German unions operate in a system known as co-determination, widely considered one of the reasons German society is today typified by civic engagement on many levels unheard of in the US. Freed from the institutional threats experienced by American business unions German unions pursue policies of generalized reciprocity resulting in, among other things great mass transit HSR and windmills.

Alon Levy April 29, 2010 - 10:47 pm

Niccolo, this goes way further back than institutional threats. It’s a trend that started right after World War Two. While the AFL backed down from its demands for universal health care and pensions in favor of lavish benefits for its own members, European unions accepted wage restraint to encourage investment-oriented growth.

Some European countries subsequently degenerated into an all out class war. In Britain, management won under Thatcher, leading to the destruction of social services. In Italy and France, labor more or less won, leading to very low economic growth and crippling strikes. (More or less = France actually has a very low union density, but the industries that are unionized – trucking, the public sector – are those whose strikes are the most destructive.)

If you’re looking for some original sin that explains the sorry state of American labor relations, read up on racial divisions within the labor movement and what the AFL did about them.

Niccolo Machiavelli April 30, 2010 - 5:58 pm

Alon, pick a book on the subject, I’ve very probably read it. Without knowing it some on this blog have crudely covered the some of the superficial differences between class-conscious trade unionism and our business unionism. That part of the debate is educative and insightful. But, this blog continues to put forth hyperbole that draws out the enormous undercurrent of anti-union proto-conservative reaction among the younger generation of partially educated readers. Without some type of anti-union slant this blog couldn’t draw 30 comments on the “second coming”.

J B May 1, 2010 - 2:03 am

Can you blame us? When there are hundreds of thousands of people in New York City far worse off than TWU workers and yet who get hurt the most when TWU raises force service cuts, fare increases and the diversion of tax funds to transit subsidies instead of to education and social services it gets hard to sympathize with them. Yes there are worse villains, and yes the TWU probably feels they “deserve” the raises, but then so do most people. I’m sympathetic to unions in private industries, where people make profits, but the TWU hardly seems downtrodden to me, and has far more bargaining power since their strikes can hurt the whole city directly, not just one industry or company.

Sharon May 1, 2010 - 12:50 pm

Large parts of Brooklyn, queens, si and the broncx are suburban sprawl. Almost everyone owns. Car and almost everyone is middle and working class. We are already bring unfairly burdened with fuel tax surcharges increased registration fees and tolls on mta bridges that have gone up 600% since the early 1990’s vs far less for bus and subway service. The numbers of motorists vs subway/bus riders is skewed for two reasons. Car owners also take the train to work plus our neighborhoods of TAX PAYING people are lower density built from the 1940’s to present vs the older denser places and the housing projects where the average resident pays NO STATE tax we are tired of paying for the twu and other transit unions who have conspired to drive costs up with labor rules that do not allowe mbtoa buses to operate on nyct routes. Force the mta to run substandard night subway service with full length trains with two crew members bs shorter trains with one crew member ENOUGH IS ENOugh. Many of my neighbors have already moved being replaced by new immigrants who pay much lower taxes making things wirse

Alon Levy May 1, 2010 - 6:05 pm


Listen: people pay state taxes whenever their income is higher than about $7,500 a year. If you think people making less than that are better off than you are, you belong in Bellevue, not on online comment threads.

Bolwerk May 2, 2010 - 10:23 pm

This fantasy world you hear about on Limbaugh about a suburban middle class that pays for everything is crap. It’s why Teabaggers are such narcissists — they actually think they pay for everyone else, while they’re gobbling at the trough more than almost anyone.

The truth is: tolls, registration fees, and gas taxes don’t even come close to paying for the roads system.

This crap about density being expensive is completely without merit. Denser housing means fewer externalities. It’s almost funny that you mention housing projects, since they’re pretty much creatures of the same ideological biases that created car-dependent, heavily subsidized low-density suburbs.

john b May 3, 2010 - 11:32 am

if only this was in crayon it would be more humorous than sad.

Sharon May 1, 2010 - 1:00 pm

Twu salary and benefits packags make many of it’s worker titles make far more for the same work then in the private or othe trAnsit agencies. There excuse is it costs alot to live I. NYC. The truth is that many twu members live outside tge city and the reason many apartments in the outerbouroughs cost so much is all the nys and city taxes used to pay for the bloated union contracts and work rules to maximize head count, section 8 which both drives up rents and encourages landliard to not do basic maintance work as section 8 vouchers are not portable and union buildung workers high pay and benefits . Door mancanx porters make $70k if you include benefits

Niccolo Machiavelli May 1, 2010 - 10:43 pm

62 comments, congratulations Ben. Imagine if you dedicated this blog to purely anti-union politics instead of what NYU Law students think is a reasonable yet “progressive” approach to the subject. Wow!

Amidst reorganizations and layoffs, an increasing payroll :: Second Ave. Sagas May 3, 2010 - 1:45 am

[…] MTA is cutting administrative pay and positions this year, and last week, the authority announced another round of station agent layoffs. On both sides of the aisle though, the MTA cannot keep salaries under control, and Andrew Albert, […]


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