Norman Seabrook, head of the New York City Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association and one of the MTA Board’s most vocal pro-labor advocates, has not bee reappointed to his position. Instead, Gov. David Paterson, in the waning days of his time in Albany, Charles G. Moerdler, a partner the lawfirm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan with no transportation background and extensive real estate experience to the board. It is a move that seemingly speaks volumes of the short-term future of the MTA’s relationship with labor.
To get a sense of this story, let’s start with some testimony Jay Walder to the New York State Assembly. The MTA CEO and Chair came to talk about his relationship with labor unions, and it seems as though things might grow contentious soon. As Transportation Nation’s Jim O’Grady reported, “Walder says unions have to agree to freeze their wages–or straphangers will have to pay more.”
To me, a few weeks ago, Walder confirmed that the MTA will try to keep labor spending steady. On the other hand, the unions will be pushing for higher wages or higher benefits. To maintain a net-zero in the labor spending column, the authority will have to institute more layoffs or dig in against its workers. In any event, it will be a tough negotiation.
Enter Norman Seabrook. His appointment to the board expired this past summer, and for the last few months, he was a holdover board member. WPIX’s Greg Mocker — yes, that Greg Mocker — caught up with Seabrook and Gov. David Paterson today. The video is available here, and in it, Seabrook talks about his departure.
The outgoing MTA Board member seems to believe his own politics played a roll in this. “It could have been for my endorsements of another candidate. It could have been because I wasn’t a yes man,” he said, later critiquing the board. “They will continue to vote yes on fare increases,” he said. “They will continue to yes on service reductions. They will continue to vote yes on layoffs. They will continue to vote yes on anything that is put in front of them.”
Gov. Paterson, who said he won’t “get into conversations about particular appointees,” talked about what he wants in an MTA board member. “We’re looking for people who will make the tough choices,” he said, “and even though they may not be popular, they will hopefully be the ones that will spare the public authority as we are trying to spare the state from going into insolvency.”
So just who is Charles Moerdler? The veteran lawyer has extensive public service on his resume. He currently serves on both the New York City Housing Development Corporation and the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York. Throughout his professional career, he has “represented many of New York’s leading real estate developers and owners, as well as real estate trade organizations.” He has also served as the lead negotiator for municipal unions, including the United Federation of Teachers and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. In other words, he’s a labor guy replacing a labor guy but with a different focus.
Whereas Seabrook is the president of a union, Moerdler, as Pete Donohue points out in the Daily News, is the guy who can lean on his extensive contract negotiating experience as the TWU’s pact comes due. With experience serving on state authorities, he can recognize what the MTA needs to do to survive and knows what the unions will be after. These upcoming negotiations could get quite interesting indeed.