Home New York City Transit ABC 7: MTA cleaners slacking on the job

ABC 7: MTA cleaners slacking on the job

by Benjamin Kabak

When I spoke with then-New York City Transit President Howard Roberts nearly two years ago, he discussed his plan to improve station cleanliness through a reorganization of the system’s maintenance workers and cleaners. By spending enough, he wagered, the MTA could solve one of its customer service woes: dirty walls, grime-filled staircase and garbage-strewn stations. Cleaner stations would mean a more pleasant commute for us all.

As the MTA’s finances headed south though, daily station maintenance went with it, and 15 months ago, the MTA confirmed that less money led to dirtier stations. The MTA had to cut approximately 100 cleaners, and subway stations and train cars would inevitably be dirtier.

But what if it’s not the budget cuts that make our subway cars sticky? What if it’s the attitude of those tasked to clean them? In an undercover investigation, that’s just the question WABC set out to answer. As you might imagine, their camera crews found workers slacking on the job — jobs for which they get $23 dollars an hour. The story is embedded above, but I’ll excerpt:

Perhaps you have noticed the subway cars have been dirtier lately. Eyewitness News had been told, it is because of budget cuts and workers laid-off. However, our undercover cameras found another problem: from the #4 Line in the Bronx, to the N Line in Queens, to the L in Brooklyn, we found subway cleaners more interested in reading the newspaper, chatting with fellow workers or texting on the phone than doing their jobs. Jobs for which are paid $23 an hour.

At the end of the D-line in the Bronx, cars come all the way from Coney Island and are in need of serious cleaning. There is trash and spilled soda, shoe-sticking filth, yet Eyewitness News observed a team of four cleaners one afternoon and found most of them doing very little. A lot of them stand around talking to each other or to the engineer, while one worker cleans a car or two on each train. It meant the majority of train cars on the D-Line would head back out, having to never been cleaned.

We found similar examples on the 4-Line, where it seems for some cleaners, reading takes priority. One worker sits in the air-conditioned car reading for about 6 minutes before getting up and leaving. The car left exactly how it arrived with papers on the seat, trash on the floor, and mud and dirt by the door.

WABC’s video shows the workers not very hard at work, and those with whom the reporters spoke say the problem stems from a lack of adequate supervision. These cleaners generally are not well supervised, and management at Transit says it cannot monitor everyone.

“With the level of resources we have, we don’t have one-on-one supervision for every employee,” Transit president Thomas Prendergast said, later adding. “If you have cases where the train has not been cleaned and trash on floor and sitting down that’s a management failure and I’ll clearly state that and we will have to do things to control that.”

Subway cleanliness has been a decades-long problem for the MTA, but that investigative report gives them an opening to do something. The authority has been engaged in a year-long effort to improve worker efficient and cut back on waste. Convincing its high-paid cleaners to do their work should become a top goal. It should both save money and make the subways a more pleasant place for the MTA’s customers. No one, after all, wants to ride in a car with a sticky floor, but these days, what choice do we have?

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Tsuyoshi September 30, 2010 - 4:33 am

To be honest, I haven’t noticed the trains themselves being very dirty. The stations, though, are atrocious – some parts look like they haven’t been cleaned in decades, if ever. I think it would even be worth cutting some service in order to pay for cleaning the stations.

Al D September 30, 2010 - 9:02 am

Agreed. Why is cleaning a station so difficult? I have yet to hear a real answer to this. Walls, stairs, ceilings, all covered in disgusting filth. Take a little Mr. Clean to a wall every ten or so years for crying out loud.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2010 - 6:01 pm

I assume you are referring to island stations. I agree with you. I think there used to be a special train to clean those walls. I don’t think they use it anymore. I think the ceilings need to be painted more often than every 20 years or so. Many have peeling paint and which makes washing difficult and would just accelerate the peeling.

E. Aron September 30, 2010 - 6:39 am

It’s promising to see that entry-level assistant district attorneys get paid $3/hour more for that work than a job for which one presumably needs no education at all.

Bolwerk September 30, 2010 - 1:44 pm

Anything that makes the justice system less effective ought to breed the kind of resentment necessary to get the state smashed. Sounds good to me!

Jason September 30, 2010 - 7:26 am

F*&^ing incredible. This pretty much confirms what i see daily at the 207th street IND terminal. Six “cleaners” doing absolutely nothing. Every frickin’ morning. The trains smell of piss from the bums riding all night, the station is stickier than a theatre floor, garbage cans overflowing with the necessary rats nibbling on its contents, and these people are just……reading the post.

More infuriating is their salary. This article made me lose so much respect for the TWU. Its one thing to do a sh*tty job for sh*tty pay, but $23/hr for this?! MTA needs to grow a set and toss these useless lumps into the overflowing cans they already neglect. For HALF that salary, i could find plenty of ambitious 20-somethings hungry for a paycheck who would not only get the job done, but more than likely take some pride in doing it.

truth February 19, 2019 - 11:19 am

Everyone has something negative to say about Mta cleaners but there is one very important that’s never looked at. The fact that if the people who ride the train would stop pissing,spitting eating and throwing trash all over the place you would not have these problems. just as fast as the stations are cleaned the same people (the riders) are the ones who cause the problem…..

Scott E September 30, 2010 - 7:34 am

Management isn’t doing a good job supervising these guys, but who is management? The line-manager program has gone away, and this would be a perfect role for that person… who else could be accountable for cleanliness on the Q trains if no one is responsible for the Q trains?

I also wonder about the layoffs… which cleaners were laid off? Was it based on performance? Tenure?

One thing I notice in the video is a lack of cleaning supplies. How is the guy sitting on the train with a newspaper supposed to clean a spill? Does he have a broom and mop that I can’t see in the video? I’ve certainly never seen one on the train, much less a bottle of Windex or a can of Lysol. Not that I advocate sitting around doing nothing, but I’m just trying to see the other side of the story.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2010 - 6:13 pm

I’m sure the union wouldn’t permit poor performance as a criteria to decide who gets laid off, but that’s how it should be done. It’s probably done by seniority. One of the reasons they don’t work is because they see others getting away with it. I bet they take turns. You clean this train, and I’ll do the next one. I could understand such behavior if there were no supervisors, but I remember reading somewhere that there is one supervisor for every four cleaners, which in itself sounds ridiculously high.

The employees should be motivated to do an honest days work even if there was only one supervisor for every ten workers. So the question is are the supervisors also goofing off? Too bad the reporter didn’t also confront Samuelson for his comments.

At the nursing home where my sister is, the maintenance crew is very conscientious. I’m there everyday and I’ve never seen anyone goofing off and don’t even believe they even have any supervisors. I’m sure their pay is also much less than what the MTA pays. Prendergast is right. This is clearly a management failure, but to even suggest that they would need one supervisor for every employee for them to be motivated to work is just a ridiculous statement.

sharon September 30, 2010 - 9:19 pm

Real easy solution. Install camera’s at every terminal to monitor what is going on.

At Coney island terminal(where i commuted through every day for 6 months) their is a bit more work going on but the cleaners are clearly not working that hard. I watched every day as the cleaner waited for the next train on a filthy platform. I asked him once and he told me he cleans trains only.

For all those who are outraged as I over the hourly wage, it is going up to $25 next year and the cash wage does not tell the true story. There is another $10-$15 in benefits on top of that. We are paying these people triple the wages NYC pays many of their cleaners and only a dollar or two less than bus drivers

For a point of reference, access a ride drivers get $18 an hour. Any wonder they mta is always broke. Between the nonexistant management and excessive high wages. All along motorist are getting bilked out of their dollars and all new yorkers pay higher grocery and fewer jobs due to the over taxation to pay $35 an hour cleaners who don’t clean. Imagine what goes on behind closed doors at the depots!!!

sharon September 30, 2010 - 10:36 pm

They clears walk around with a broom and garbage tray. If they encounter a spill they walk all the way back out to the platform to get the mop. Very inefficient. At the very least a simple cart like the one’s used by housekeeping at hotel’s that has all the tools needed at one’s finger tip

Sharon October 2, 2010 - 2:51 pm

“I also wonder about the layoffs… which cleaners were laid off? Was it based on performance? Tenure?”

It is based on seniority . Unions demand this at.

“ne thing I notice in the video is a lack of cleaning supplies. How is the guy sitting on the train with a newspaper supposed to clean a spill? Does he have a broom and mop that I can’t see in the video? ”

The cleaning supplies are on the platform. The cleaner never intended to clean anything. A common tactic at many city unions is to show how layoffs make things dirtier thus drawing public outrage. The truth is the mta has 25% more workers then needed to keep the system in the same shape it is now. Listen to trains as they stop in station. The breaks a squeeling.

They only get away with this because there is no effort to find out what is the best way to do things and create clear metrics to measure what is going on in a way that management outside the specific work site can monitor.

I know Walmart get’s a bad rap by the unions who are just looking to unionize and collect dues from the largest employer in the nation but every process, every sale is tracked and monitored for improvement. They reduced the amount of time (and effort that helps the worker) it takes to collect carts in the parking lot. They have powered cart pushers that are now remote controlled so that the worker stands in front and pushes a button and steers the carts vs pushing by hand. A 10 fold in reduction in time because the worker gets less tired and can move far more at a time.

Macys has increased it’s sale in this terrible economy by rolling out “my Macy’s” which offers different things in stores based on consumers preferences not by income spreadsheets as it did in the past.
There is no effort at the MTA to improve processes and address the needs of consumers. There is just more of the same old same old. Black box planning without local input(and i am not talking the input of elected officials who are only interested in getting reelected and with little exceptions have no real world experience running anything)

One example would be that most express bus riders along shore rd in bay ridge may take the train if
1) There was a quick way to the train other than waiting for a long unreliable bus route. Provide subway specials between 7 am and 9 am and 5:30 pm and 7:30 pm. that take rides to 59th street express N stop. The major complaint is slow bus ride to the r local stops and then a slow train ride into the city. This would provide reduced travel time and save the MTA a boatload of money as express buses at best are 50% full(100% to the city and empty in return during rush hour)
How do I know this, I have many friends that live along shore Rd and I have asked them giving them the two options and told them the time it takes. The same thing can be done along Cropsy ave in Bath Beach.

Sharon October 2, 2010 - 3:04 pm

“Provide subway specials between 7 am and 9 am and 5:30 pm and 7:30 pm. that take rides to 59th street express N stop. The major complaint is slow bus ride to the r local stops and then a slow train ride into the city. ”

One thing to add is most of the express bus riders want midtown. So if they take the bus to the R then they have to transfer to the N or D for midtown service. Most of the time this means standing all the way. The R is the local to provide service for riders further down the line in park slope and it is justified by the mta by the low ridership numbers on the R in Bay Ridge. They are low because the R is not going where people want to go creating demand for express bus service that is under Priced. The median income of express bus commuters into Manhattan from shore rd or cropsy ave is probably (based on observation not cold hard data) north of $60k a year and mean north of $80k with many two workinf adult households pushing household income much higher. Many have transit benefits accounts that reduces cost by aprox 30% thus are only paying about $7 round trip. There would be little drop off in ridership at $7 and a bit more at $10. If you provide a faster option via rail people would take it.

It is sad that it takes longer to midtown via subway from parts of brooklyn than from long island via LIRR. The mta pushes people into express buses. The real crime is the politicians force the mta to run these buses during midday when there is no demand

Andrew October 2, 2010 - 10:55 pm

The line manager program hasn’t been gone away, but it has been downsized. Responsibility for cars (and I think this includes car cleanliness) has gone back to the Division of Car Equipment.

The cars that run on the Q one day might show up on the N the next. Assigning responsibility to a specific line makes no sense if the same cars can drift from line to line.

Layoffs were almost certainly based purely on seniority. That’s civil service.

Al D September 30, 2010 - 8:59 am

$23/hr?!? I know plenty, plenty of people who would love to earn this money, and knowing their work ethic, would excel!

Maybe that’s what’s needed here, some good ol’ fashioned competition. Select 1 subway line, the dirtiest, most filthiest stinkiest etc. line. Then, hire people, contract out, or just palin hire workers directly, forget about the union. Go tou court and get a waiver if needed. Call this a 2 year pilot program since MTA is so fond of pilot programs. Then let the competition begin. Heck, even make a reality series out of it, and give the MTA a share of the revenue. Sound farfetched? Plenty of people watch JWowww and Snooki!

Nothing motivates people more than competition especially when jobs are at stake!

pea-jay September 30, 2010 - 9:04 am

I’m generally at least willing to listen to the public service union’s viewpoints on a range of subjects but this is pretty indefensible.

oscar September 30, 2010 - 9:34 am

I think the answer is to increase their pay, solidify their job security, and offer more generous benefits.
That will motivate them to work harder.

Benjamin Kabak September 30, 2010 - 9:36 am

I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic, but I don’t think subway car cleaners need to be paid more than the $47,000 annual salary they would make for 8 hours of work 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, at $23. Seems a bit….excessive to me.

oscar September 30, 2010 - 9:46 am

yes, it was just some rainy morning sarcasm

sharon September 30, 2010 - 10:37 pm

thats more than the starting salary for teachers with 4 year degrees

Nesta October 1, 2010 - 10:27 am

The cleaners for LIRR and MNR make MUCH more than transits cleaners and have MUCH easier jobs!

Sharon October 1, 2010 - 11:55 pm

any wonder why the mta is broke and taxes in NYS are the some of the highest in the nation.

One of rallying cry’s the TWU uses to get their workers mad is to tell them how underpaid they are as compared to the white LIRR workers. The truth is NYCT workers are overpaid and LIRR workers are criminally overpaid

Scott E October 3, 2010 - 9:20 pm

Easier jobs? Subway trains are easy to sweep up.. particularly tha new ones where, other than the poles in the center, nothing touches the floor. Makes it real easy to push a broom or mop.

Compare that to commuter trains with their rows upon rows of vinyl (read: tears easily) seat-benches, each with a leg on the aisle side. It must be significantly harder to see trash, much less sweep it up.

Woody September 30, 2010 - 9:42 am

Start the reform by closing the employee parking lots where the trains are supposed to be cleaned.

Wanna bet that the ones who don’t give a sh*t about the subways always drive to work and never ride the trains they are paid so handsomely to clean?

sharon September 30, 2010 - 9:22 pm

The lot is full at ci yard all the time

Woody September 30, 2010 - 9:45 am

Second step: Have all the cleaners wear uniforms that read, “SUBWAY CLEANING CREW,” and assign them to ride the trains they neglected to clean at the terminal for at least 2 hours of every day. Let them work their way through the train end to end picking up stuff off the floor. And taste a little ‘customer feedback.’

Geoff September 30, 2010 - 10:19 am

I realize I’m probably opening a can of worms by saying this but:

The MTA really should contract out and privitize it’s cleaning services. By privitizing it, the MTA can demand results AND save money. This is a line of work that does not require anything more than basic training and absolutely minimal qualifications. There is nothing that requires this division to be under the umbrella of the MTA. I am willing to be that there are literally hundreds of thousands of people in this city who would be willing to take their job for 2/3rds or less than what these bums are paid.

Full disclosure: I have previously worked as a janitor (and was paid 1/3 of what these lazy bums were).

oscar September 30, 2010 - 10:30 am

i agree..but can already see the giant inflatable rat in front of MTA headquarters

Woody September 30, 2010 - 11:38 am

As a longtime union member, I’d gladly chip in for a giant inflatable rat to be placed outside the TWU headquarters. The new rat shouldn’t be standing on its hindquarters, though. Instead, it should be lying down on the job.

Sharon October 2, 2010 - 12:01 am

The unions demands have already cost stable cleaners jobs at major banks such as chase due to shy high pay demands. Chase out sourced branch cleaning to a private cleaning service laying off all the cleaners.

I’d prefer the cleaners to work for the mta at a reasonable rate. No reason to divert some of the cost the mta will pay to the service to the company owners away from the workers. The problem is that the union game of paying off albany in exchange for putting up a smoke screen when contract time is here. The truth is that salaries are out of hand. The mta is not a social service agency they are a transportation agency that’s mission is to provide transportation to the region. Many activist think the mta’s job is to provide for a way to bring people into the middle class including Jessie jackson who stated closing tooken booths and removing conductors was racist. Many at the twu believe this

Sharon October 2, 2010 - 12:04 am

Besides the high pay, there are a web of separate job titles that do specific tasks which can be put together into more broad flexible job roles. In a nutshell they have to employ multiple people for jobs that can be done by one. This is called broadbanding.

THe mta is also paying for workers to got to college on our dime

Chris G September 30, 2010 - 10:22 am

The solution to me is even simpler. Look at the subways of Hong Kong and Singapore. Passengers can not access the tracks. Therefore, neither can their garbage. Enclose in glass/plexi/etc the stations and have doors that open when the train doors open like the airtrain at JFK uses and the in track garbage will be gone.

Now for stations. First off, the argument that it is lack of management is BS. Yes you need to supervise people who don’t give a damn about their jobs. But the other side of that is if they don’t give about their jobs, they don’t need their jobs. I don’t wish any individual to lose their job, but let us be honest. Some people deserve to lose theirs for cause. These cleaners included.

The other issue, is Americans in general and Generation Me. Most people these days only care about themselves and to hell with society and shared space. We need people to be more accountable of themselves. Stop bringing your drink on the train and I can guarantee you it will not spill on the train.

And I actually like the Reality Show idea above. Let people fight for these jobs that the current holders have already demonstrated they do not care enough about to keep.

oscar September 30, 2010 - 10:43 am

i like the idea, but sounds expensive…i guess if it can be demonstrated that those costs would be offset by lower cleaning expenses then yes…combine it with Geoff’s idea of outsourcing cleaning services for the stations.

and yes, above all, i’m more disgusted by the animals who make the mess to begin with

Chris G September 30, 2010 - 12:31 pm

Well the costs of enclosing the stations from the tracks would result in many benefits.

The air conditioning they pump in now is almost of no effect. This would give an enclosed waiting area and would be easier to control the climate. The riders would love that.

The trash that is in the tracks, and it is a lot of it whether by design or by it being blown around when the trains come though would be no more. That leads to lower maintenance costs of the ROW.

There would be less track fires. Less outages. More reliable service.

And the wind tunnel created by an arriving train would not mess up the platform because it remains sealed until the train doors open at the same time.

Of course this is NYC. We have to study for years the things that work fine everywhere else.

Scott E September 30, 2010 - 2:13 pm

A bit off-topic, but Platform Edge Doors aren’t as easy as it sounds. First, the platform edge has to be strong enough to support the weight of them (which, as current platform-edges show, many cannot). Second, it needs to withstand the force of air rushing at it when at train enters/leaves the station. Third, there needs to be a way to ensure the train stops with the doors lined up, and to control the opening and closing of doors (the old South Ferry way of the conductor leaning out to press a button to move the platform-extenders is too slow and inefficient) – computer-driven trains might be needed to accomplish this. Fourth, what if a door (or all doors) fail to open? Even having passengers move to another set of doors on the train would pose tremendous delays. Fifth, the plexiglass doors will likely become another surface for vandalism/scratchitti.

Sharon October 3, 2010 - 9:37 pm

these cleaners don’t go on tracks. Those guys get paid MORE

Noah September 30, 2010 - 12:31 pm

I take the G train home from the Court Sq station every day. Since the service changes took effect on 6/28, there aren’t two trains waiting in the terminal, there aren’t any. passengers wait on the platform until a train pulls into the station, then the train turns right around and leaves. at rush hour, the platform is usually crowded enough that by the time there is no way for a car cleaner could fit into the train to clean. the whole time there are usually two car cleaners hanging around the platform, rarely doing work.

Edward September 30, 2010 - 2:45 pm

What about cleaning it at the Brooklyn terminal? And at four cars long, would it take that long to clean a “G” train? No excuses. These a-holes should be fired and new cleaners who actually clean hired.

sharon September 30, 2010 - 10:56 pm

All cleaners are not slackers. some are. If the mta was run smartly they would have no cleaners at that station during rush hour. Well we know the mta is not smart. There are plenty of places to cleaner that those cleaners can be cleaning

Harold September 30, 2010 - 1:18 pm

I rode a train in Japan (a commuter train, not a subway) and when it pulled into the station’s last stop an army of about 30 young women armed with mops and masks and all kinds of cleaning fluids descended like a swarm of bees and cleaned every inch of it in about 5 minutes. This was after a single run, I presume. The trains in Japan are spotless, needless to say. Someone here could care less, probably because of the perception that poor people and minorities ride public transportation and don’t deserve a clean ride.

Alon Levy September 30, 2010 - 10:12 pm

That’s just some of the trains. On the busiest lines, the trains need to turn back so quickly that there’s no time to do this at rush hour, not at the CBD end at any case.

Edward September 30, 2010 - 2:46 pm

Another reason to hate this damned city.

Andrew D. Smith September 30, 2010 - 3:19 pm

I’d actually guess the $23 an hour figure is misleading — in that it wildly understates what these folks make.

I have no idea of the specifics in this case, but public sector unions tend to negotiate awesome benefits packages that cost at least a third of hourly pay. So total compensation here could be $30 an hour or more, though the subway janitors may be the exception to the rule.

oscar September 30, 2010 - 5:27 pm

“negotiate” is saying it nicely

sharon September 30, 2010 - 9:42 pm

It’s actually $10-$15 in benefits per hour. That brings the total to over $35 an hour increasing every day as health care cost rises.

FYI the cash pay rises to $25 an hour in the next year or so. go to the twu 100 website for the complete list of hourly pay for all twu titles . What will shock you is how many different titles that have very limited scope of job functions. That is why no new taxes or increased tolls will solve anything.

There is another $1 billion in cost savings per year over at the combined mta operations that can be had with a reasonable contract(very fair to workers) and better management oversight and processes.

Even more if you close of the token booths and reassign the workers(not fire or remove from stations) to doing tasks such as station patrols . How much did it cost the mta yesterday to clean the brand new Brighton line stations that were covered in graphiti. All done while the station agent sat in a sound proof booth doing nothing? So much vandalism could be stopped by the agents making patrols. Give them ticket issuing authority and many of the train cleaners won’t be needed if people knew they were going to get a ticket for throwing their french fry rapper on the floor.

Construction companies hire overnight security guards to look over there sights. the mta overpays booth agents to sit and do nothing.

sharon September 30, 2010 - 9:45 pm

Even when the twu got 0% raises in the 1990’s they actually got raises as health cost rose.

BrooklynBus October 1, 2010 - 9:41 am

You have a lot of good ideas.

BrooklynBus September 30, 2010 - 6:27 pm

I remember when Prendergast took over, one of his first statements was that we are not going to let the trains get dirtier even if we have to reduce staff. Since NYCT does its own semi-annual monitoring of how dirty the trains are (as well as monitoring done by Straphangers), they definitely can’t say we didn’t know the trains were getting dirtier.

They should have done the investigation that Jim Hoffer did. They didn’t because all they are concerned with is budget issues, not how well people are doing their jobs. They are always looking to cut nickels and dimes, but failing to see the larger picture. This is just another small example of MTA inefficiency. Indeed there are many more. This is why the MTA never has enough money and always needs to cut service and raise the fare.

sharon September 30, 2010 - 9:35 pm

” Since NYCT does its own semi-annual monitoring of how dirty the trains are (as well as monitoring done by Straphangers), they definitely can’t say we didn’t know the trains were getting dirtier.”

There should be daily inspections as trains leave the terminal randomly done. Each train that leaves the station should have a checklist item signed off stating it’s condition. Ever wonder why most bathrooms in public places have a checklist on the back of the door where the cleaner signs off on when the bathroom was last checked. It is a proven management fact that when someone is reminded that their work is being monitored, they do a better job even if someone does not check up on them all the time.

NYCT does not have clear accountability for jobs being done that can be verified. Work is done willy nilly. Supervisors file paper documents that are not verified by anyone. Arm supervisors or the cleaners themselves(for the money they make they should be able to handle this) with iphone like devices to take pics of conditions of trains and file condition reports.

And they need to equip these guys with some better cleaning gear that can make them more productive.

It is management fault for overpaying, for lax supervision and for the workers for having no integrity.

JebO October 1, 2010 - 7:32 am

OK, this is a very interesting post and I have a lot of comments.

Cleaning subway cars is a shitty job. I’m not sure any of us commenters would voluntarily take that job if we had other prospects. You spend all day picking up garbage and mopping up spilled soda, puke, etc. As soon as you’re done with a train, instead of having a few minutes to admire / take pride in the finished product, the train rolls out and you have another one in front of you. The trains just relentlessly keep on coming. After the first few weeks at this job, I think just about anybody would burn out.

$23/hour is clearly enough to attract people to take the position, but guaranteed lifetime employment is enough to prevent people from actually doing the work.

Every single person in that video is acting rationally given 1) that they have shitty thankless jobs, and 2) guaranteed lifetime employment at above-market rates. If your task is hard and you can’t be fired, what would motivate you to do work? Answer: Nothing. This entire system needs to change.

I’m a lifelong Democrat and have been a strong supporter of collective bargaining rights ever since I read up in high school and college on the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and the life and struggles of Samuel Gompers. But this just takes it too far. I pin the blame for this poor situation squarely on the fact that the TWU owns this work. Think about how crazy this is! The TWU is actually making public transit less attractive.

As Jason noted above, the MTA needs to grow a set and privatize this work. Existing cleaners can be laid off or, if the TWU protests too much, let go through attrition. The move might or might not save money (you’d need to factor in corporate profits into your cost structure) but riders would definitely see a better result. A smaller paycheck and the threat of being fired is a much better motivator than a bigger paycheck and guaranteed employment.

Scott E October 1, 2010 - 9:05 am

“As soon as you’re done with a train, instead of having a few minutes to admire / take pride in the finished product, the train rolls out and you have another one in front of you.”

Interesting point, and a valid one too. I remember speaking to a cleaner at Lex/63rd who DID take pride in the cleanliness of his station. You could almost always find him somewhere in the multiple levels of the station with his broom or mop bucket. And as far as subway stations go, this one looked pretty damn good.

Then one day he got notice that he was getting laid off…. and there went the pride and motivation/

BrooklynBus October 1, 2010 - 9:56 am

You hit the nail on the head. The MTA does not reward good work and often slackers can just get away with it. That creates the environment to goof off. Also, there are no incentives to do a good job and those who do are not appreciated.

I don’t buy Jebo’s argument that people don’t work because it’s a shitty job. I know a cleaner who does not work for the MTA, but he is there everyday cleaning as if he is cleaning his own house. He takes pride in his work. He is always cheerful and talks to everyone. It’s not the nature of the job, it’s the environment you work in.

One good thing about the MTA for its employees is that it is a large organization which offers numerous promotional opportunities. Do you know how many people started out as cleaners and moved up the ranks? Many. Some are now or were in upper management. You don’t not have to be a cleaner all your life. The problem is that conscientious work does not go hand in hand with a promotion. To often it is those with a good personal relationship with someone that results in a promotion, not the work you do. Perhaps you are on the same bowling team. That is the problem. I knew someone who went out and bought a motorcycle when she heard her boss was in to motorcycles.

Nothing will change until the MTA improves its management techniques and they get the unions to revise work rules. I took a course for managers once where rather than teaching you to solve a problem when you confront one, you were taught to “get the monkey off your back.” In other words, shift the problem to someone else. No wonder problems don’t get solved.

Sharon October 2, 2010 - 3:23 pm

Climbing the ladder in any large company is all about networking. This can only be reduced if their were clear measurable daily metrics on what each cleaning crew does. Each train that comes and goes out has to be inspected and crews need to sign off on what was done.

This will be far easier to do once all train have camera’s. train condition can be recorded when it comes into station and how it looks when it goes out and data on how long it was in terminal. If trains are delayed and two trains come in at the same time crews can’t get the trains clean. No brainer there.

“The problem is that conscientious work does not go hand in hand with a promotion.”
That jives with what workers i talked to all across the mta have told me. I have been asking questions for nearly 20 years. Unlike some on the board I actually do research on the topic. I have been a transit geek and process geek. So much so that I was both hated and loved by people I worked at a filing room at a major bank where i worked at when i was in college. Just by sorting out the documents first then walking up and down the aisle to file them it took half the time and effort. My crew would get out work done and then hang out until management offered incentives to speed up the work and then we doubled out work speed by working the entire day. The crew that finished the most got $50 bonus each week.

“One good thing about the MTA for its employees is that it is a large organization which offers numerous promotional opportunities. Do you know how many people started out as cleaners and moved up the ranks?”

I am well aware and it is just another reason why the cleaners title is far overpaid. Cleaners should have first shot at better jobs and the union should push for money to provide training if needed to push cleaners into more skilled positions with better pay. It would attract a higher quality worker and improve work ethic.
Management rising through the ranks is also another reason for the status quo at the MTA. At the end of the day the supervisors know no other way of doing something. When you are in the thick of it sometimes you don’t see better ways.

Sharon October 2, 2010 - 12:48 am

“Cleaning subway cars is a shitty job. I’m not sure any of us commenters would voluntarily take that job if we had other prospects.”

Maybe to the mostly college educated or skilled people on this board but it is a very good job to those who have little skills and are working in low end retail jobs or other low skill private sector jobs with no job security and $10 or less an hour pay.

“23/hour is clearly enough to attract people to take the position” People would be lined up around the corner in a good economy in this city at $15 an hour with the benefits package offered. The unions and taxes chased most of the lower end step up jobs in the city. there are few decent paying job choices for those who are two lazy to go to a trade school, get a CDL. Many of the white collar positions in Manhattan are increasingly IVY LEAGUE only jobs as the lower end back office jobs have moved out of state. My uncles firm DTC is moving 1800 jobs to NJ as they need to build a 20 year technology center and with the increasing taxes decided it would be risky to stay here. The stock exchanges are 90% electronic. NYSE built there new data center in NJ for same reason. Goldman Sache back office are in NJ as well

“If your task is hard and you can’t be fired, what would motivate you to do work? Answer: Nothing. This entire system needs to change.”
What motivates you, management that rewards good work with praise and supervisors who check to see that something is getting done. What makes it thankless is that apparently mgt does not care. Most supervisors are selected by a dumb test not on there ability to manage.

“Think about how crazy this is! The TWU is actually making public transit less attractive.”

Poor work conditions such as Triangle shirtwaist factor fire” shows the need to have workers organized but the union leaders are socialist who in the end just care about collecting the dues. More workers more dues. The TWU and ATU unions work rules make public transit less attractive in more ways than lack of cleaning
1) Lack of OPTO forces riders to wait longer at night for trains and makes nighttime subway service more expensive to provide. If you need to transfer you triple the time it would ordinary take to get home.
2) As Brooklyn Bus spoke about on another thread the union and politicians pressured the mta into taking down a successful bus location system that would has kept bus on time in the last 20 years
3) Have been fighting the expansion of Station Agent Job roles. Prior to metrocard, station agents had to empty turn styles etc.

MANY MANY MORE. The unions hurt the working class the most. The extra taxes and tolls it takes to provide public services has resulted in the loss of jobs in factories, customer service and back offices. As a life long Brooklyn resident I can speak first hand as upper working class and middle class areas one by one emptied out in the last years as jobs fled replaced by mostly immigrants, many of them illegal.

It is not just the MTA it is ALL CITY SERVICES. Sanitation collection routes make no sense. One building gets lift trucks(one man operation is possible) and the next does not. When it snows trucks go up and down major roads all day even when the streets are clear and leave the side streets to overtime the next day. Both the supervisors and drivers both union milk the overtime

BrooklynBus October 2, 2010 - 10:18 am

If you and I and others here can see the problems so clearly, why can’t Walder and the Mayor see them or is it that their interests are not with the people? All they both talk about is money. They make it seem if they had enough money all the problems would just vanish when that is clearly not the case. Of course funding is important, but it seems like no one is trying to solve the other problems, some of which you did such an eloquent job discussing.

Sharon October 2, 2010 - 4:32 pm

“f you and I and others here can see the problems so clearly, why can’t Walder and the Mayor see them or is it that their interests are not with the people? ”

I think the Mayor and Walder both have the best interest of riders at heart the problem is that when you are the leader of a large organization you have to relay on what you middle managers tell you. The mta is a large organization and many middle managers are not aware of what is going on at lower levels. There are good data to for them to look at. The fact that one bus line is late constantly is not enough info. Why is it late and does that change based on the time of day? If it better and cheaper to not collect fares a subway stop such as Kings Highway on the Q? My knowledge comes from many years on the ground and so does yours over layed with some knowledge of how things are currently being done.

The best thing the mayor ever did was 311. It allows the city to hear what is going on from the people. They now even have an Iphone app that allows you to report stuff with pictures and GPS location data.

“All they both talk about is money. They make it seem if they had enough money all the problems would just vanish when that is clearly not the case. ”

Well the unions and stake holders (managers) at the MTA and private contractors benefit from more money. Any new leader including Walder rather build and add new features that would cement them in history. Reducing unneeded services and reorganizing things that the public can not see does not get the recognition it deserves. Many people still think reducing station agents at secondary entrances is a service cut. We both know it is not. Even Walder would not have attempted it when the mta had an operating surplus.

Most people who run for public office do so because they can not compete in the corporate world, for social change or for ego. For the amount of effort and heavy lifting I would need to be an office holder and fight the special interest I could be a millionaire doing something else

I am a firm believer that the mta biggest problem over the years is that IT HAS RECEIVED TOO MUCH MONEY. Once it got the pot of gold of toll money back in 1968 it had no incentive to reduce costs and the white flight to the suburbs that reduced ridership. yes i am aware of the entire city vs BMT/IRT that left the system in bad shape.

I have worked a rough budget that would put the mta firmly in the black in 5-10 years with no additional taxes and lower tolls over time. Major service changes many once the public understood them they would think they were better. It can be done but it probably won’t

One crazy one that no one has thought of is to run Most service through Coney Island as through service. The D and B would one loop service for instance. For the first time allowing riders in Bensonhurst with a Quick ride to Sheapshead Bay (a service I would use daily FYI) Yes I know all the issues about subway lines being too long I have all that worked out.

Use the extra tracks at Coney Island to start a park and ride service with an exit off the Belt Parkway located on the edge of the CI Rail yard. Use this for Coney Island Redevelopment and a commuter park and ride. There is not enough parking for what is in Coney Island now, new mind what they are planning. The road network can not support any more either. Right now my friends from NJ with a little local knowldege park one stop away and train it over. A mall, hotels etc could be developed also with the developer picking up much of the cost. All new development in CI would pay a small tax to pay off any extra costs involved. Cars would pay $10 with return metrocard fare for 4 included.

I have firmly believes that all capitol monies going foward should go to reducing cost and emergency safety work. No fancy tiles unless it reduced cleaning costs. No artwork. Other transit systems include this stuff because they have no customers. NYC customers just want to get there in a safe comfortable way. example
1) In the 1990’s metrocards allowed improved fare options including free bus to train transfers which could have been paid for by eliminating all station agents and moving to a station security model. WELL SPENT Money

Brighton line station are being redone 100% and NO ELEVATORS? Cost benefit work would show that the cost of an elevator at Ave U would over time save money (or at least be cost neutral and a service improvement to boot) because it would allow the mta to reduce AAR costs which are skyrocketing and will only get worse. Kings Plaza has AAR vans ten deep on most days.

Any new leader including Walder rather build and add new features that would cement them in history. Reducing unneeded services and reorganizing things that the public can not see does not get the recognition it deserves. In the corporate world a few CEO such as Alan Mulally have turned around companies, change cultures and made millions doing so. Mulally turned around Boeing which assembled planes at a snail pace back into a world leader and has done the same at FORD. I would actully but a ford product. The thinking at Ford which just like the MTA has management that are lifers and all think the same is that Americans would not pay more for a premium product thus the American version of Ford products were far crappier rider than European versions.


BrooklynBus October 3, 2010 - 11:24 am

I agree with you that Walder has the best interests of the rider in mind, but not the Mayor. He is totally out of touch with the middle class and only has the interests of business in mind. I’m sure that special attention is devoted to cleaning the Number 6 line, so the Mayor can draw conclusions about the entire system from that one line he rides a few stops.

I also agree that the problem is middle management who is not aware of what is really going on. All ridership decisions are based on the budget and passenger traffic counts. There are never any latent demand or origin destination studies performed to determine the needs of riders and potential riders. When your basic parameter is to not cut operating costs in all your planning decisions without any regard to revenue, you greatly limit any improvements you can make.

There is a great need to think out of the box but I don’t think that the fact people can move up the ranks is part of the problem. That is a good thing. Many times these people do have great ideas and know how to fix the system. The problem is that no one listens to them. There is an employees suggestion program but it is not run correctly. More often than not, good ideas are discouraged, not encouraged.

311 is good in that it makes it easier to complain, but I don’t believe it is solving any problems faster. Many City agencies just ignore complaints made through 311. It is a great start, but there needs to be follow-up. There needs to be data as to how many problems it actually solves. It shouldn’t be necessary to report the same complaint a half dozen times. It shouldn’t take a TV station to get involved for a problem to finally get solved.

David Gunn was the best leader Transit ever had. He was interested in maintaining and fixing the system first, before expanding it. This got him into trouble with the politicians in Washington DC who were only interested in the glamor of opening new lines, when he saw the system was falling apart. History proved him correct. After he was thrown out and the system decayed, they called him back for two weeks as a consultant. In NYC, he did cement himself into history without building new lines, but bringing the system back from the brink of disaster and ending graffiti. The innovative ideas he brought remain in use today.

I also agree that continuing to pump money into the MTA over the years encouraged them not to improve their inefficiencies.

Your loop service through Coney Island sounds great if all the logistics could be worked out. Buses are extremely slow for long trips. It shouldn’t routinely take an hour and a half to go by bus from Sheepshead Bay to Borough Park, not that great a distance. Bus and train still takes an hour, also too long. A loop train would cut that time to about 45 minutes. But if you ask the MTA what they are doing to cut bus travel times, their answer will be SBS which will never affect more than a dozen routes, or increasing limited stop service which also only affects a few routes. No one ever talks about express interborugh service that doesn’t involve Manhattan or new bus routes to the airports. They only look at the cost it would take but never estimate the ridership that would be generated.

Increasing park and ride, as you suggested is also something that is sorely needed. Sheepshead Bay provides about 20 park and ride spots which is a joke because the spots are all filled by 7 AM. Instead of increasing park and ride with a pay structure that would encourage its use, the City is going in the opposite direction of selling municipal parking lots for development and increased congestion. Flushing which has sorely needed an off-street bus terminal for 50 years, still will not get one when the current municipal lot will be converted to more development. The City’s solution, make Main Street and Union Streets one way to solve traffic problems. This will never work and only will increase double parking which the City wants so they can ticket more cars. Instead where do they build a bus terminal? In Jackson Heights where one was not needed because all the bus routes there could be through routed rather than terminate there. Too many political deals and shortsightedness rather than a willingness to attack the problems and nothing positive will result.

I can’t believe the Brighton stations are being reconstructed without elevators. Doesn’t ADA require it?

Sharon October 3, 2010 - 10:00 pm

“Instead of increasing park and ride with a pay structure that would encourage its use, the City is going in the opposite direction of selling municipal parking lots for development and increased congestion”

Not to mention the mayors bike lane program has reduced lanes on some roads from two to one. the stated purpose is to slow traffic, it does but the speeders go down the center lane and cut off people. Pollution way up. The mayor is ruling by ideology and not facts on the ground. Each area of the city is unique and needs local input. Or elected officials don’t count. They just want reelection and payoffs.

“I can’t believe the Brighton stations are being reconstructed without elevators. Doesn’t ADA require it?”

the deal the mta cut was to install elevators at a list of KEY STATIONS. The reason behind this was that some subway stations would be cost prohibitive and impossible to install. The deal was to provide AAR. The brighton line station issue is short sighed.

There is a show on CBS called undercover boss at 9pm on sunday. The CEO goes into the company and works alongside workers to see their experiences. One show had the boss of waste management ride along the pickup route and work in the landfil.

Todd October 1, 2010 - 9:52 am

I’m not sure any of us commenters would voluntarily take that job if we had other prospects. You spend all day picking up garbage and mopping up spilled soda, puke, etc. As soon as you’re done with a train, instead of having a few minutes to admire / take pride in the finished product, the train rolls out and you have another one in front of you

Boo-hoo. Seriously, go talk to an ER nurse then tell me about cleaning up spilled puke (and blood and stool.) In the meantime, there are PLENTY of people who are out of work who would take these high-paying jobs.

Sharon October 2, 2010 - 1:11 am

Not to mention that the speed these cleaners need to work at is rather leisurely rate. The trains spend 5-10 min in station, they do not come in as dirty as you may think and they do not mop the entire car but rather just spot clean when they see a need. Two cars per cleaner means 5 min or less per worker followed by long wait until the next train arrives.

I have observed the cleaners many times as I transfer at stillwell terminal in Coney Island(D,Q,N,F) quite often and at Flatbush Ave Brooklyn College station on the 2 and 5

Nurses and a multitude of other jobs is far worse. It is mindless work with tons of hang out time. None of the stress I deal with at my job every day.

If I were a bus driver I would be spitting mad only getting paid $2 more an hour. It is strange at the mta skilled jobs get underpaid and unskilled jobs get grossly overpaid.

BrooklynBus October 2, 2010 - 10:27 am

I was on the bus the other day with a retired bus driver. He spent ten minutes bitching with the current driver how glad he is to have retired. Most of his complaining was directed not at management but at the union who he called a joke. He also criticized dispatchers for harassing good bus drivers. He said he was forced to pull out of the terminal two minutes early (and would get in trouble for that) because he said it was his only chance of making the trip on time, since the MTA doesn’t allow enough time in the schedule and the dispatcher was aware of that.

If the MTA only listened more to their workers and surveyed the bus drivers occasionally for their opinions, a lot of little problems could be solved, which would add up to major improvements. Instead they have people making decisions who don’t ride the system and have no idea what goes on. Saving two minutes on a schedule may look good on paper, but they never ask themselves how it affects operations. They are so concerned about cutting overtime but never analyze if its overtime that is unnecessary or overtime that if eliminated drastically hurts service.

Sharon October 3, 2010 - 10:03 pm

job satisfaction goes along way to happy labor relations

Macy’s uses worker input to help stock what the customers want. All businesses that listen to workers, the real workers not the union bosses run far better.

BrooklynBus October 4, 2010 - 12:27 pm

Not only does it go a long way to happy labor relations, it also goes a long way to an employee doing a better job.

J Famolare October 3, 2010 - 11:15 pm

I can’t believe Thomas Prendergast’s attitude toward this reporter. It’s disgusting, vile, and defensive. With attitudes like Prendergast’s no wonder why the bottom line workers have the attitudes they have. The heck with it, I don’t need to clean the rail cars.

BrooklynBus October 4, 2010 - 12:29 pm

Are you talking about the part where he thinks that it is necessary for each worker to have a supervisor in order for a worker to produce? If so, I fully agree with you.

J B October 4, 2010 - 1:07 am

I think the real problem here is the voters in New York. New Yorkers tend to favor unions, because of their traditional image as defenders of worker’s rights, so any time the MTA or city does something that will hurt the TWU’s interests they will be inclined to take the TWU’s side, and their representatives will generally listen to them. As a result, any meaningful legislative reform is pretty much impossible, so Walder and Bloomberg are left with no options but to ask for more money.

BrooklynBus October 4, 2010 - 12:31 pm

True, but the unions aren’t the MTA’s only problem. See today’s post about the Accenture Report.

From Transit, a new focus on the customer :: Second Ave. Sagas October 6, 2010 - 10:28 am

[…] a local train because of orders to stay on schedule; station cleaners do a half-hearted — or no-hearted — […]

luis pomavilla June 20, 2017 - 5:56 pm

Is good the jobs tanks

mad as h#@^& October 15, 2010 - 6:59 pm

I supervise the lines in the article above. The managers assigned to us are not very intrested in what goes on at the stations. When we have a problem with an employees’ work preformance, we are told we are not supervising properly instead of counceling the employee and disciplining them. What would greatly help, is, if the police issued tickets to anyone eating or drinking on the train. This is against the law and garbage would not be left behind.

gash22 October 18, 2010 - 10:23 pm

Pendergast says the MTA cant supervise every employee, how about enlisting the riders who have to sit in those filthy subway cars? Set up a website where you can submit pictures/video of employees slacking off. I bet that coupled with legions of riders snapping pictures might persuade those cleaners to get to work!

Rick D May 16, 2017 - 10:22 pm

Excellent idea!

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HAZEL December 12, 2012 - 10:16 am

I Would LOVE to have a mta cleaner position right now some people just dont appreciate what they have in front of them and plus they start to get lazy on the job, so if theres anyone out there that can show me in the right direction on getting a mta cleaner position please dont hesitate on telling me, THANK YOU AND HAVE A BLESS DAY….

Sandro May 5, 2016 - 6:11 pm

Another idea. Everyone wants a clean subway and bus system but has anyone ever stopped to think, We The RIDERS are the ones who leave stations and trains dirty with garbage. Everyone has thrown garbage on the floor or simply just left it somewhere in a station or bus and went along with their day. If people learned to use the garbage like we use in their homes rather than throwing it on the floor or tracks they’ll be less garbage. And then the MTA could have a fighting argument as to lower wages for cleaners. BUT this is NEW YORK we’re talking about some people are filthy even in their own homes.

Rick D May 16, 2017 - 10:29 pm

I see this kind of slacking off every single day at the F train 179 Street station in Jamaica, Queens.

There tends to be one guy who seems to actually work, the rest look at their phones, talk to passengers, or make a big deal about using their key to open a train door to let the passengers in. Or even better, some wait till the train comes into the station, and they take that golden opportunity to go change the water in their mop bucket. Almost no trash is picked up all.

luis pomavilla June 20, 2017 - 5:53 pm

I am looking for cleaner jobs please

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