Home Asides A closer look at the spit attack leave time numbers

A closer look at the spit attack leave time numbers

by Benjamin Kabak

While the corner of the Internet devoted to New York news was all abuzz earlier this week over the spit attack time off numbers that showed some drivers taking six months’ paid leave time following assaults by saliva, Jim Dwyer took a closer look. The Times columnist did some sleuthing and determined that the numbers reported earlier this week were erroneous. Rather, union officials told him — and MTA officials supported the claim — that “of 69 spitting cases in 2009, 34 drivers came back to work for their next shift, and nine took less than ten days off.” The rest, he said, were held back by the recommendation of two doctors.

According to Dwyer, the discrepancies “hardly matter,” and even though Gene Russianoff aptly termed the MTA mess “government by anecdote,” Dwyer raises a few good points in his column. He faults the state for not allowing the MTA to escape crushing pension debt and faults the MTA for taking on too much bond-based debt while recently hiring the financial guru who got them into this mess as the new CFO. It is a giant mess.

Still, Dwyer ends his piece on an optimistic note. Although MTA CEO and Chair Jay Walder and TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen have battled it out in the press recently, the two sides are slowly learning that private conversations are a better route to fiscal reform than a P.R. war. “Jay has had conversations with Mr. Samuelsen,” MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said to Dwyer. “They’re both on the same page, that the best chance of getting things done is talking quietly and less talking in the press.” Sounds reasonable to me.

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Boris May 26, 2010 - 1:22 pm

I’m by default suspicious of “talking quietly” because that is how Albany back-room deals are done. What guarantee do we have that Walder won’t go over to the Dark Side? And anyway, newspapers need news. Walder is the only Good Guy important enough to make newspapers publish bombshell stories like the spit attacks. If they have nothing to write about, they will just go back to MTA-bashing and parroting government officials.

Red May 26, 2010 - 1:44 pm

I actually think Walder has pulled off a shrewd tactical move here. I’m pretty sure no one at the MTA leaked the spit story to the press — it came out of the MTA committee meetings that reporters regularly attend.

Reporters have a huge appetite for MTA-bashing, but to them union work rules and management slip-ups are in the same category. Walder’s managed to focus a big part of that natural appetite onto work rules, and can now promise with a straight face to “talk quietly” with Samuelsen. The press will likely keep doing his work for him.

Paulp May 28, 2010 - 9:29 am

“I’m pretty sure no one at the MTA leaked the spit story to the press”

That’s a good one. Every story you read in the press about MTA work rules is planted by the MTA. It is how they do business. Leak inflammatory stories-then ask for “quiet talk”. These guys have you all fooled.

Benjamin Kabak May 28, 2010 - 10:53 am

I know it’s very easy to be skeptical of the MTA’s motives, but the spit story wasn’t leaked. It was discussed at this week’s committee meetings as the numbers were included in the Board materials. They were released to the public for everyone to see.

Aaron May 26, 2010 - 6:28 pm

The trouble is that labor negotiations done in public quickly become radicalized, and it becomes all but impossible for parties to move away from their original negotiating positions. There’s a difference between a closed board meeting or Legislative committee meeting as compared to a closed labor negotiation. I’ve done some management-side labor law and it’s well-known that sometimes you just need to give your other party some room to move within, to give them an opportunity to make a deal where you get what you need and they get something that they need (alternative dispute resolution 101), and they’re not going to have that room if everything that goes on in these discussions is in next morning’s Post. Walder is plainly smart if he sees that he’s going to get a whole lot further developing a working relationship with these folks.

I’ve worked in two municipal agencies (as a long-term intern in each), one of which I would say had a fairly good working relationship with their non-uniformed employees (which is to say, everyone but people under the umbrella of police and fire), and one which, bluntly, did not. The one with the better working relationship had a remarkably different tone and had far more consistency when it came time to reassess contract terms. So, yeah, it is entirely within the public interest for conversations off-the-record between Walder and Samuelsen (which is to say, things that take place in arenas not covered by FOIA) to remain private.

Rhywun May 26, 2010 - 7:02 pm

I vehemently disagree with this “keep it quiet” notion. The public–as the people who are footing the bill–have every right to know every little detail of these contracts. It’s the closed-door status quo that gave us the current unsustainable contracts.

Aaron May 26, 2010 - 9:44 pm

I imagine the contract is subject to FOIA – one of the agencies I worked for actually published pocket-sized bound books containing the contract (all 100-odd pages of it) for employees, management, press, FOIA requests, you name it. You could go down to Jay Street and request a copy, I imagine. My agency gave them out for free but under FOIA they’re permitted to charge a reasonable photocopy fee.

Paulp May 28, 2010 - 9:25 am

TWU-MTA contracts are around. I have one. About this notion of “quiet” negotiation: the MTA has crossed that line already. But it’s typical MTA: flood the press with stories and then ask for dignified discourse. These guys have you all fooled.


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