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Interviewing Jay Walder: Labor relations and revenue sources

by Benjamin Kabak

A postcard distributed by union leaders earlier this year when MTA CEO and Chair Jay Walder took a summer vacation is indicative of the tense relationship between labor and management at the MTA.

In yesterday’s excerpt from my interview with Jay Walder, the MTA head and I spoke about the economic pressures which the authority is currently facing. Walder spoke at length about avoiding future service cuts and ensuring that money promised to and raised for the MTA actually finds its way into the authority’s coffers.

Today, we pick up the thread of the MTA finances but with a different bend. One of Walder’s biggest failings — and he’ll admit it himself — has been management’s strenuous relationship with labor. The TWU, the authority’s largest union which is currently suffering through dissension in the ranks, has not shown a willingness to compromise on benefits, pensions or raises, and with contract negotiations on tap for late 2011, the MTA is searching for ways to rein in runaway labor costs.

Meanwhile, while maintaining spending levels are a priority, so too are increasing revenues. To do so without service cuts or fare hikes, the MTA has looked to non-traditional sources of advertising. By offering station branding and full train wraps, the authority can drive marketing opportunities and generate more dollars to fill its depleted coffer. Even station names are for sale.

Second Ave. Sagas: One of the assumptions in the 2011 budget projections, as far as I can tell, is that the labor costs won’t really be increasing over the next two years. Do you think that that’s a realistic and obtainable goal?

I strongly believe that labor has to be part of the solution. That is a view that has been stated by the governor-elect. It’s a view that has been stated by the mayor.

Jay Walder: I’m actually very proud of what the MTA has achieved in reducing costs so far, but an area where I’m terribly disappointed that we clearly have not achieved what we’re trying to do is in forming partnerships with our labor unions, to be able to look at this and in essence, say that we’re talking about a historically difficult time in which businesses and families all across the state are struggling. One might have hoped that we might have found the context to stand together with our workforce, shoulder to shoulder and show that we were able to do things differently, that we were able to find different productivity. We recognize that some of the arrangements that had existed for long periods of time, even if you don’t change them for existing employees, need to change on a going-forward basis. We didn’t find a way to be able to do that.

Having said that, I strongly believe that labor has to be part of the solution. That is a view that has been stated by the governor-elect. It’s a view that has been stated by the mayor. People are saying, “Look, we can’t do this apart from labor. We have to do this with labor.” Some people point to the period in the 1970s when the city was in the midst of its financial crisis, and labor and management did stand together and did try to find a solution to be able to deal with that crisis. It allowed the city to get back on its feet and prosper and grow. I think we’re at that same sort of time.

Do I believe that it is possible to do it? Yes. It is easy to do it? Obviously not. We haven’t succeeded to this point. I’d be kidding you if I said that. But I do think it’s possible to do it.

The point that we made is not that our workforce should not be compensated; it’s to say that you really should be tying compensation into the achievement of productivity improvements. Everybody I’ve talked to inside and outside of our organization believes productivity improvements are possible. What we need to do is bring it to the table, to stand together to be able to do this and to say, “Hey, if we’re really trying to figure out how to do this, to protect our transit system, to continue to have jobs for people but to show people that we are really using every dollar wisely, how do we do it together?” I’m not giving up on that. I haven’t given up on that. I believe it is achievable. I think we’ll get there.

The Shuttle, branded for the Major League Baseball playoffs by TBS and MLB, has become a testing ground for the MTA's expanding advertising opportunities. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaquia/TBS)

Second Ave. Sagas: The Chicago naming rights deal with Apple has gotten a decent amount of attention over the last few weeks. I know the Barclays deal was the first major MTA naming rights deal. Are there other efforts being made to identify naming partners? Is there a push to look out of the box beyond the traditional sources of revenue?

Walder: I wasn’t here at the time that the Citi Field issues came up, but I gather we didn’t succeed in that. I think the Barclays deal is the first time we have succeeded in doing something of that nature. Should we be thinking out of the box? What are the ways we should bring revenue in? The answer is yes.

I hope you’ll think of our advertising contracts in that way. What you saw this year were some real efforts to break down some of the barriers. We’ve done some really neat things in terms of advertising that are bringing real money in, and I think that the win-win on this is where you’re doing some things that both improve the ambiance of the subway environment and the bus environment but also raise some money for the transit system. My favorite one was the wrap on the train for TBS with the television screens. I think that’s a great example of breaking down some barrriers. We’re bringing about $100 million in doing that.

Let me give you another example which I just looked at this morning which I really like. You’ll look at this and say it’s not revolutionary but I don’t think you need revolutionary. We just opened up a Bank of American ATM location inside the subway station at 42nd St. and 8th Ave. in the mezzanine level above the 8th Ave. Line. Why do I like it so much? Because it’s bringing into the subway environment the type of retail presentation that we’re used to above ground. In other words, you look at this and you’ll say this doesn’t look very different from another type of ATM space that I might go into. But that’s exactly my point. What’s that doing is raising money for the subway but it’s also actually making people feel that this is what I see underground, it is the way I do it, it is bringing me that kind of retail that I want to see. I thought it was terrific because it was doing that.

All of these things come together. Can we make some money on some of these initiatives? Yes. We will make more money if we can improve the retail environment in the subway system, get greater value out of the spaces that we have there, improve the ambiance and the customer satisfaction. We’ll make more money than all of the naming rights deals that you’re talking about.

These other things are much more valuable to us if we can find a way to do that. The wrap that we did — the Target wrap — was terrific. There are lots of things you’re seeing this year that are breaking down some barriers.

I also believe that the way we incorporate technology into our stations also provides an opportunity to be able to increase revenue flow. In that case, we might well be able to actually meet three objectives. We can make some money off of the way we bring digital into our stations. We can be improving ambiance, and we may well come up with some ways to be able to provide useful real-time information to customers that follows and is all part of the same goal. If we can do those three things, than we really knock the ball out of the park.

Still to come, Jay Walder discusses capital expansion plans, the Second Ave. Subway and next-generation fare payment technologies.

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Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines November 30, 2010 - 9:02 am

[…] Jay Walder Talks Labor Relations and Unorthodox Revenue Sources (2nd Ave Sagas) […]

Larry Littlefield November 30, 2010 - 9:17 am

“We recognize that some of the arrangements that had existed for long periods of time, even if you don’t change them for existing employees, need to change on a going-forward basis.”

I have some issues with the TWU, but at least they haven’t done “screw the newbie flee to Florida” contracts. Benefit cuts are different productivity gains, and if transit workers are taking too much relative to the rest of us, that’s just as true of the existing workers as the new ones.

The solution in this country is always to take from younger generations, by running up debts and deals to cut their compensation to pay from excessive conpensation of those who came before. How about bankruptcy court instead?

tacony palmyra November 30, 2010 - 9:58 am

I’d rather have well-paid, excellent workers than poorly-paid workers who don’t do a good job. It seems too many people are resigned to the idea that MTA labor doesn’t do a good job, so the pressure is to keep wages down. I’d rather see people make the opposite argument: they’re making decent money, why aren’t they more productive workers? Pay them well and hold them to a high regard. Fire employees who don’t do their job well. Get rid of work rules that require workers to be paid for time they’re not actually working. I know that’s difficult. It should be made easier. This should be the push, not freezing wages. The MTA workers who do a good job deserve to be well paid. Get rid of the incompetent few who make them all look bad.

BrooklynBus November 30, 2010 - 12:47 pm

I agree with you 100%.

Walder has to ask himself the question, why do most employees not perform at their highest level? Sure some do, but others just do the bare minimum to survive. The answer isn’t money. It’s appreciation. And the MTA has a history of not appreciating employees, by rewarding cronyism, not ability. Lower level workers especially are abused by their supervisors who get off on a power kick, probably because its the only place in their life where they have any power.

Once the MTA starts recognizing ability, and starts treating everyone fairly, you’d be surprised how quickly things could change for the better. They have an employee suggestion program. Now only if it was run correctly, and not treated as window dressing, that would be an excellent place to begin. They need to start by having it run by someone with some power, not an analyst who is doing the very best she can in a no-win situation.

While a few employees are rewarded under the program, some very handsomely, other employees have complained that all suggestions are not properly reviewed by the respective departments, most having to wait up to a year for a response. Many good suggestions are rejected out of hand. The appeal process is a sham and a rubber stamp of the rejection. Others have complained that their suggestion has been rejected, only to be implemented at a future date, denying the employee of credit and money.

It is easy to blame all of the Authority’s ills on the lack of money and the unions, but much can be done to improve the organization that involves neither. Treating everyone fairly and with respect is a good place to start.

Common sense is sometimes severely lacking within the MTA. Did I ever mention the employee who years ago was suspended for three days without pay because he committed the crime of going to a customer’s house on his own time to return a lost wallet because he didn’t want her to have to go through the inconvenience of having to cancel all her credit cards. He violated the rule of not turning it over to his supervisor. His good deed would have gone unnoticed by the MTA if the customer didn’t choose to write a letter complimenting his exemplary behavior. I am sure this same type of thing still happens today.

Walder’s also making a big point about attracting an ATM on the subway mezzanine. What about the bank branches that once existed underground before the days of ATMs that were closed up? ATMs just sound like something that was long overdue.

Nesta November 30, 2010 - 1:57 pm

BrooklynBus you make some fantastic points. But the MTA is a few different companies under one umbrella. In the TA you are correct the company doesn’t appreciate the staff that moves over 7 million people safely and on time daily. But in the LIRR and MNR the company appreciates and respects there employees.

BrooklynBus December 1, 2010 - 12:08 am

Sorry about that. I should have limited my discussion to NYCT. Glad to hear it is different at LIRR and MNR.

Alon Levy December 1, 2010 - 2:29 am

Yeah, and at the LIRR and Metro-North, the labor inefficiency is even worse. The trains still have ticket punchers, for the FSM’s sake.

BrooklynBus December 1, 2010 - 12:05 pm

So what’s your point? Are you saying that in order to have labor efficiency you have to treat your employees like crap? That’s definitely not true.

Alon Levy December 1, 2010 - 6:05 pm

My point is that bringing up commuter rail as an example of how to do things right is clueless.

BrooklynBus December 1, 2010 - 6:14 pm

He wasn’t defending commuter rail other than stating there is no problem there with lack of employee appreciation. That’s what we were talking about, and if true, it is a valid point. Labor inefficiency is a separate point and I fail to see how that relates to this discussion.

ant6n December 1, 2010 - 7:16 pm

I thought the point was the connection between productivity and employee appreciation.

BrooklynBus December 1, 2010 - 10:36 pm

It was, but the inefficiency Alon was talking about was procedures like ticket punchers. That has nothing to do appreciation. What I was saying was that employees will work harder and do a more conscientious job if they feel appreciated.

Alon Levy December 2, 2010 - 3:10 am

When SEPTA tried to be more efficient and get rid of the ticket punchers, the employees actually felt less appreciated.

John of the Bronx November 30, 2010 - 5:08 pm

Brooklyn Bus, I agree with you all the way. The MTA upper management treats the employees like serfs on a medieval manor. This has generated such hate among the employees that I would be hard pressed to name another company or agency with such bad management/employee relations.

A classic example: in February of this year, John Samuelson of the TWU wrote a letter inviting Walder to join him in presenting a united front to lobby for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Transit Operations Assistance bill. Walden didn’t even bother to answer the letter!!!! One may think that Walder felt too important to travel and lobby with a working class person! Now, Walder is “concerned” about relations with the TWU.

Respect was the major issue in the TWU strike of 2005. The MTA simply won’t learn the obvious: treating employees with respect makes for happy employees and happy employees are the most productive.

BrooklynBus December 1, 2010 - 12:14 am

Ben, I hope you are reading this.

Alon Levy December 1, 2010 - 12:59 am

You can’t appreciate workers much when 46,000 of them are doing what fewer than 10,000 would do in Tokyo.

BrooklynBus December 1, 2010 - 12:15 pm

You make it seem like no MTA worker works hard and all of them are goofing off. That certainly isn’t true.

While no one isn’t denying that the agency couldn’t be run more efficiently, it is unfair to insinuate that most workers aren’t putting in a full day’s work. Yes, there are problems with work rules, and part-time workers would make more sense than paying employees swing time for doing nothing, and some track workers work only two hours a day which is not their fault. I think there could be better management and other efficiencies, but by and large the bus drivers, conductors, motorman, etc are doing their job just fine. (The cleaners I have questions about.)

Having never even worked for the MTA, you aren’t even qualified to comment on the subject of appreciation of workers.

Alon Levy December 1, 2010 - 6:00 pm

Neither of us has any experience working for a transit agency that’s even halfway competent. The difference is, I’ve heard of those other agencies and I read their corporate reports to see what they do better.

You’re still dodging the issue, which is that at New York City Transit, 3-5 workers are doing the job of 1. It doesn’t matter how hard they work or how much they want to be appreciated; they’re woefully inefficient, and it’s impossible to correct without either raising NYCT ridership by a factor of 4 or laying off three quarters of the workforce.

BrooklynBus December 1, 2010 - 11:01 pm

I’ll partly agree with you if you are talking about the employees in the offices, (I don’t think the factor is quite that high though.) I think the problem has more with how work is distributed, the numbers of employees in each work area, and that some layers of management are not needed at all. Some managers merely delegate down all the work they receive and pass the results back up when completed, adding no value themselves. They think of themselves as expediters, bugging employees about due dates, saying where is the assignment already? A secretary could perform that function. We don’t need to pay someone $80,000 a year to do that.

Some areas may have three or four times the employees that are needed to do the job, but other areas have too few employees where the work load is too high. Efficiency is also lost if you have too few employees.

However, most of the labor force is fixed: one bus operator to drive a bus; one motorman to drive a train. You can’t very well have one bus driver drive two buses at once, etc.

That said, there still could be more efficiencies. I don’t see why there needs to be one cleaning supervisor for every four cleaners, for example. In short, every single job needs to be evaluated to see if it could be made more efficient. I’ve never seen that done.

But to get back to the major point, it matters a lot how people are treated and if they feel appreciated. Screw someone and he will sit there all day and not work or do a shitty job doing his assignment. If he is really pissed off, he will slack off for more than a day. That’s human nature. You can’t say that it does not matter how hard they work.

Sharon December 2, 2010 - 12:38 am

The way people are treated is the number one priority in running a good operation. The problem at the mta as in many places is attracting and retaining good management talent at all levels. For two longs managers ran there operations without clear metrics as to what needed to be done and no way to measure what works and what does not work.

When a manager such as the signal guy who wanted a crew to increase signal checks from 5 a shift to 15 a shift issued new productivity guild lines, there is no way to actually know how long it takes to get the job done and no effort to provide better equipment to allow the workers to get it done faster and safer.

Train cleaning in terminal can be done much faster with the proper gear. Each cleaner could wear a portable wet dry vac and quickly pick up any mess on a subway car. They walk around with a small broom and tray and need to walk out of the car to dump it out. If there is a big mess this takes far longer than it needs to .

“However, most of the labor force is fixed: one bus operator to drive a bus; one motorman to drive a train. You can’t very well have one bus driver drive two buses at once, etc.”

Very true but if all depots regardless of union local could be interlines you could reduce the number of total operators.

In the subway front conductors can be eliminated quite easily. As for the motorman, the post and daily news has an article about a person falling on the track and the motorman shed light on something really interesting. The motorman is quoted as saying that he was happy that the control tower told he to stop and stay because as he enters the station he can only see siloettes of people on the platform and NOT THE TRACKS. If he entered at 20-25 mph he could not stop. this totally throws out the arguments against removing motorman as well as a computer controlled train with sensors in station would easily detect a person on the tracks and would be far safer then the current system of visual driving . If anything they should install the inexpensive sensors to give current motorman this extra info to save lives

Alon Levy December 2, 2010 - 3:15 am

You could have a single motorman drive trains for longer than he does today. The US and Japan have the same working hours, and yet a train driver on Toei spends 50% longer driving revenue trains than a train driver on New York City Transit.

BrooklynBus December 2, 2010 - 11:15 am

How long is 50% longer? Do they drive 11 hours a day? You also have to ask yourself how safe is that? Too many stories about long distance truck drivers falling asleep at the wheel driving 20 hours straight.

Alon Levy December 2, 2010 - 1:54 pm

At NYCT, they average 450 hours per driver per year operating revenue trains. At Toei, they average 700. It’s not even close to 11 hours a day in either case; Japan is a modern country with modern workplace safety regulations.

nycpat December 2, 2010 - 4:51 pm

I think you don’t have enough data to make comparisons; just last week you were asking for figures about how many T/Os and C/rs there are. You don’t know how many work train T/O and switchmen there are; i.e. T/Os on the clock not in revenue service. You can’t just take the number of T/Os and divide because there are scores of xtra and xtra/xtra and vacation relief T/Os who may work one day in revenue and the next day work in the yard or switching.
Alo, as the Tokyo system had to be completely rebuilt since 1945 it is probably more rational than NY- you won’t see a TSQ shuttle platform in Tokyo.
How do platform pushers or guards figure in your figures?
How much vacation do Toei workers get?

BrooklynBus December 2, 2010 - 6:02 pm

Assuming 20 workdays a month and 11 work months a year, according to your numbers the average train operator is driving the train only two hours a day. We know that can’t be true.

Sharon December 2, 2010 - 12:19 am

I also believe that fairly paid workers are needed to maintain stability in the workforce and provide the best service. If you got to TWU 100 website and you see the hourly pay rates for many titles we are paying in some cases 30% over fair pay for the title. One easy compare is train cleaners currently make $23 hour (going to $25) cash plus $10 plus benefits while unionized porters at Flatbush Gardens apartment houses make $16-18 an hour for the same work with a far lower benefits package. Unionized school cleaners make in the $14-18 an hour range as well.

The real issue beyond the actual pay (which is way higher than market) is that work rules silo a worker into doing one narrow task thus you need 3 workers to so the job that one worker can do . A train cleaner can not clean a station platform and won’t clean metrocard turn style slots for example(all you need to do is run a metrocard with alcohol to clean the readers) . Said cleaner won’t paint over graphiti. A secound person roams the system that does that. If there is no Graphiti to paint over he is paid to essentially do nothing. Each worker works at 50% productivity or less in many places. There is much down time between train entering still well terminal in Coney island for instance. I watch in horror for years as filthy platform is left unclean while the train cleaner sits on a bench waiting for the next train

BrooklynBus December 2, 2010 - 11:20 am

You raise some very good points, Sharon. I would just like to add that many of the office positions are also overpaid compared to what NYC pays its analysts and managers. Someone paid $80,000 a year by the MTA would only earn about $60,000 at a City agency. And as I said in many cases people are doing work that can be accomplished by someone in a lower title. Managers need not be doing secretarial work.

Paulp December 2, 2010 - 3:41 pm

ok Sharon let’s get rid of everybody and those that we don’t let’s cut their pay. Happy Holidays to all.

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Marie February 14, 2013 - 11:05 pm

Hmm is anyone else having problems with the pictures on this blog loading?
I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog.

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.


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