Home Transit LaborTWU TWU Sticking Point: Overtime bus drivers

TWU Sticking Point: Overtime bus drivers

by Benjamin Kabak

Even as the MTA and TWU seemingly get nowhere in their ongoing labor negotiations, a few key issues have risen to the top of the agenda. While calls for unnecessary, costly and useless subway slowdowns have garnered headlines, issues concerning part-time employees have become contentions. The MTA wants to cut overtime pay by instituting part-time bus drivers while the TWU objects strenuously to such a plan.

Esme Deprez of Bloomberg breaks down the conflict:

The biggest U.S. transit agency’s proposal to use part-time bus drivers to cut costs is one of the most contentious points in contract talks now in their second year with its largest bargaining unit. The plan is part of a package of measures, including three years of no wage increases, that union leaders hope to derail when they send hundreds of workers to swarm the offices of lawmakers in Albany next month.

Leaders of Transport Workers Union Local 100 say allowing an army of part-time drivers would shrink paychecks, threaten public safety and harm the economic stability of families. “There’s no such thing as a part-time family or a part- time mortgage,” said Jim Gannon, a TWU spokesman. “If some schmuck wants to work part-time, go get a job at Best Buy.”

…Mass transit, especially in metropolitan areas, requires the most vehicles and workers during morning and evening rush hours to meet demand. Work rules that the MTA calls “outdated” require eight-hour shifts. During midday lulls, workers are often paid even when they’re not driving. Shifts lasting more than eight hours can’t be broken up between multiple employees, forcing the MTA to pay one worker overtime to do the whole thing. One bus driver with a base pay of $55,994 in 2009 more than doubled his take-home with $70,473 in overtime pay, according to a 2010 audit by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

In 2010, overtime cost the MTA $560 million for the extra wages, or 13 percent of payroll, the equivalent of employing an extra 7,000 full-time workers, according to the authority. This year, it budgeted $506 million. Toll and fare increases that take effect in March are expected to bring in only $450 million a year.

The TWU has framed the debate in terms of both job security and safety. It’s tougher for union members to make ends meet with only one job if some members are working only part-time jobs, and union leaders allege that part-time workers will not “abide by agency policy requiring approval of outside employment and sufficient rest between shifts.”

The MTA, meanwhile, says shifting some bus drivers to part-time status could save $13 million annually. It’s a small amount in the grand scheme of the MTA’s budget but would both represent work-rule reform and highlight a serious commitment to shaving labor dollars. Right now, though, the issue is just lingering — as are the overall contract negotiations — until some middle ground can be found. As usual, without real labor reform that goes well beyond full- and part-time distinctions, riders will pay, one way or another.

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nycpat February 26, 2013 - 12:30 am

The TWU will NEVER accept part timers. I’d rather be fired for striking than work part time and I’d probably be homeless without my job. Begging for 40 hours work in a week, NO WAY.

“Do 4 hours in the morning and give us a call later, stay fresh, we may have 4 or 5 hours for you this evening.” DROP DEAD!

The problems you would get are not worth the 13 million. Believe it!

Bolwerk February 26, 2013 - 1:11 am

Four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening is perfectly fair, and full time. The idea that someone can get paid for not working between those times is a bit absurd, however.

nycpat February 26, 2013 - 11:33 pm

They don’t get full pay for swingtime. As tsuyoshi said; lost opportunity cost.

Bolwerk February 27, 2013 - 10:27 am

Not sure I buy that argument. They know going in that there will be a split, and their hourly compensation for the extra stress can be adjusted accordingly. Or they can admit that the incremental drivers needed for rush hour can reasonably be part time.

Larry Littlefield February 26, 2013 - 11:22 am

I don’t blame workers for objecting to two part time shifts, hours apart.

On the other hand, would they be willing to work three 13 hour days per week without OT, with breaks and bus maintenace between driving during the rush hours?

That would be fair. It would end up being perhaps 34.5 hours of work per week, with two 45 minute breaks on each of the four days. But I doubt the union would agree to have workers be paid to work only when working.

Bolwerk February 26, 2013 - 11:46 am

Seems like you’re going to end up with some split or part time shifts no matter what, given the extra manpower needed during rush hours. A lot of the comments on this page seem to presuppose that every bus driver would deal with split shifts, when in fact it’s probably only a fraction of them (or all of them, rarely).

To me, the part time shifts seem like a natural consequence of rush hours, and therefore are a legitimate policy. It’s not like the MTA is imposing rush hour on the TWU.

Larry Littlefield February 26, 2013 - 12:33 pm

I’ve got my issues with the unions, but four commutes or four hours of sitting around without pay isn’t much of a deal. Yes it’s the deal many of the serfs have. I had it myself when I worked as a dishwasher, busboy, and short order cook. But it’s not as if it is no big deal.

Bolwerk February 26, 2013 - 7:05 pm

No, it’s not a good deal. But then, four hours at the bus driver base pay isn’t exactly a horrible deal either as a part-time job. If the union is so against allowing any part timers, then the obvious alternative is some people having to take a split shift sometimes. Either works, but the poison should be picked. If the latter happens, either everyone shares the burden or it’s a volunteer/seniority matter.

Alon Levy February 26, 2013 - 8:05 pm

13 hours a day? Lovely.

Eric February 28, 2013 - 7:29 am

A typical work schedule for nurses is three 12-hour shifts per week. That’s three hard days (or often nights), but a very long weekend. For some, the pluses more than offset the minuses.

Mike February 26, 2013 - 11:58 am

You union shysters are so out of touch. Millions of unemployed people would kill to have even a part-time job. It’s a win-win for the unemployed and for the straphangers. If you don’t want the job, don’t let the door hit you on the way out–lots of other people can drive that bus. The TWU parasites can piss off.

Nathanael February 27, 2013 - 12:12 pm

The way the TWU behaves is not the way an industrial union behaves. An industrial union would be eager to enlarge its membership and help out the unemployed people who would like to work part-time.

Ryan February 26, 2013 - 1:48 pm

I find the comment “Drop Dead” to be startling, especially given the fairly benign proposal on the table, and nycpat’s outrage, and the example he/she gives “give us a call later and we may have 4 or 5 hours for you”, exemplifies the misinformation that abounds in situations such as these.

The proposal is not to suddenly change full time drivers to part time drivers who are guaranteed only four hours a day, and who must then wait around in the hope that they might be called for more hours in the afternoon. The proposal is to open the door for the MTA to hire part time drivers in the future, something the current work rules do not allow. This will allow for more flexibility in staffing, reduce costs (by having fewer idle drivers) and may well spur new service (routes that may be uneconomical where the MTA can only use full time drivers may become economical when part time drivers are used) and therefore positively affect riders.

Moreover contrary to Jim Gannon’s proposal that anyone who wants to be a part time worker is a “schmuck”, many people would welcome the flexibility of having the choice of working part time time.

We all understand that TWU workers have families to support, and that these families have come to rely on a certain wage level. We do not want to see these families negatively affected, or see them on the streets. And no, Jim Gannon, part time families don’t exist, but part time employees do, especially when one member of the household works full time and the other is grateful for the ability to work part time.

The real issue here is overtime and a practice built up over many years where very few employees actually receive their standard salaries (unlike in many jobs in the private sector), instead they receive much more, and spend/live according to that level. That level though, unfortunately, is unsustainable for an authority providing a public service, and which is paid for by the public. Its painful, but it has to stop because the practice is hurting millions of New Yorkers, and only aiding thousands of TWU workers. Keep the practice for current employees, fine. But phase it out for any new hires, or this problem will continue to snowball.

Bolwerk February 26, 2013 - 1:13 am

Crap like this is just another reason why many buses need to go the way of dinosaurs, in favor of ZPTO or at least OPTO LRT. The TWU would complain, but at least fewer of them would be needed as operators.

Someone February 26, 2013 - 8:44 am

The TWU would complain so vociferously that operators would need to work double time to make up for lost time. Basically, a 80-hour workweek.

Bolwerk February 26, 2013 - 11:41 am

WTF are you talking about?

Someone February 26, 2013 - 12:44 pm


Bolwerk February 26, 2013 - 7:07 pm

And you’re still not making any sense. Who would be working double shifts, and why?

Someone February 26, 2013 - 7:54 pm

TPTO to OPTO involves the loss of one crew member in each pair, so where’s the lost time going to be made up? (Sorry, I don’t understand TWU regulations.)

Alon Levy February 26, 2013 - 8:09 pm

By having one person press the button and also drive the trains.

Bolwerk February 26, 2013 - 1:40 am

Pretty blatant classism in that Home Depot comment to. ‘Cause TWU labor deserves special privileges, and Home Depot schmucks don’t!

Mike G February 26, 2013 - 7:18 am

Part time bus drivers means they’re probably going to need to work part time somewhere else. If this happens, I see a lot of routes not being run when the bus drivers are stuck at another job, not to mention the fatigue of working another job before driving a 14 ton city bus packed with passengers.

Mike February 26, 2013 - 12:02 pm

There are many unemployed people in this economy who can’t even get one part-time job as-is. I think you’re manufacturing a problem out of whole-cloth where there isn’t one.

Andrew Smith February 26, 2013 - 7:14 pm

Presumably there are transit agencies somewhere that have a mix of part-time and full-time drivers. There has to be some data about comparative accident rates and costs associated with absenteeism.

al February 26, 2013 - 3:01 pm

I call for the creation of 3 categories of vehicle crew.

1) Vehicle crew only: Bus drivers and train crews who operate vehicles full time.

2) Split job crew: These are primarily vehicle crew. They operate buses and trains during rush hr and during special services (Yankees, Mets, Belmont Stakes, US Tennis Open, etc). At other times (Midday, Evening) they work with light to medium duty inspection, maintenance and repair crews. They have fixed predictable schedules (AM Peak only or PM Peak vehicle operation only). This can be attractive to moms and dads, as well as part time college students.

3) Voluntary part time Peak Hr Only crew: Vehicle operators have family responsibilities that change over time. With children, siblings, or parents/grandparents to take care of, having the ability to work part time on a set predictable schedule for a few or several years can be very attractive. A mom or dad can work AM peak shift and part of Midday and be home to pick up kids from school at noon and in the afternoon. Note this is voluntary. Once these familial responsibilities clear up, the person can return to work full time.

The savings need to be plowed into improving and preserving service.

al February 26, 2013 - 3:27 pm

PS: Make it 4 categories.

Qualified Part Time Partial Retirement Vehicle crew: These are individuals who reach their late 50’s or 60’s who have personal debt or child support or other financial obligations and could use more income. They work AM or PM peak or special service only and get health, pension and part time income. They must pass mental and physical requirements to continue operating. Shorter, set predictable shifts can allow for more rest and offset age.

Chris C February 26, 2013 - 8:28 am

“If some schmuck wants to work part-time, go get a job at Best Buy.”

Wow what a great way to get part time staff to join the union if that’s your opinion of them !

Some people may only want to or be able to work part time because of other commitments – child care or looking after a sick relative for example.

Ryan February 26, 2013 - 10:35 am

Agreed –

1. Casting anyone in the TWU who may want to work part time as a “schmuck” is offensive.

2. Casting those who happen to work part time in retail, as millions of Americans do as “schmucks” is very offensive.

2. Using the word “schmuck” shows the contempt Jim Gannon has for the very people who ride the buses.

Once again the general public suffers so the entitled can be protected.

Nathanael February 27, 2013 - 12:10 pm

“If some schmuck wants to work part-time, go get a job at Best Buy.”

Wow what a great way to get part time staff to join the union if that’s your opinion of them !

Yeah, that was the first thing that struck me — this is simply not a union attitude! This is a private-club attitude!

Guys, remember what makes unions strong. Solidarity? Including with part-timers?

Tsuyoshi February 26, 2013 - 8:35 am

I have to agree with the TWU here. This is a skilled job, and nobody likes a split shift. A driver may not be doing anything productive during the middle of the day, but since it’s impractical to work another job between shifts, there’s a lost opportunity cost and they should be paid for their time.

So the current situation seems fair to me. Except that I would say some of these express bus routes should just be eliminated; they get subsidies out of proportion to their benefit compared to the rest of NYCT.

Andre L. February 26, 2013 - 8:50 am

Something puzzles me a lot, since TWU is pushing contradictory arguments:

(1) no part-time job, because part-timers might overworks their hours and come drive a bus or train tired or burnt out

(2) no broken-shift, because workers can’t do much thing if left idling in the middle of the day.

If MTA workers are not supposed to have other jobs, then (2) contradicts (1) on the premise a second job or occupation is detrimental to critical work performance.

I think shift splitting should be forced upon workers, whether they like it or not, as long as they have something like a 11-hour break between leaving a shift and starting the next. So it would be possible to have a shift like this 6AM-10AM + break (unpaid) + 1PM-5PM.

That would leave more than enough time (11h) for workers to go home, rest and sleep; and would also allow some flexibility on scheduling.

Alon Levy February 26, 2013 - 11:55 pm

Serious question re split shifts: in industries where people have flexibility to choose their own hours but can’t work from home, do people frequently choose split shifts? More quantitatively, in industries where people can negotiate different kinds of work for more or less pay – e.g. getting paid more to work on holidays – how much extra pay do people need to be offered to be willing to work split shifts?

Bolwerk February 27, 2013 - 10:35 am

Who else even works this way? Wikipedos mention public transit and bar staff. Throw in many who partake in siesta?

I was hoping to find information about working hours on onet, but didn’t (interesting as their profile on bus drivers is).

Alon Levy February 28, 2013 - 9:45 pm

The NTD has information about revenue hours per year. The Empire Center will tell you how many are working each job description if you put in the name of the job description. You can divide one by the other. It works out to 1,200 revenue bus-hours per bus driver.

Nathanael February 27, 2013 - 12:08 pm

Split shifts suck and most people avoid them if possible. I don’t have hard numbers though.

Bolwerk February 27, 2013 - 12:52 pm

I can’t think of many other industries where they would be required. And in those few that might call for it in theory, in practice I’m sure hiring two part timers is just more practical for the part timers and the employee.

Maybe more industries would do in times of very competitive full employment (e.g., retail), with employers competing for employees rather than employees competing for employment.

Theorem Ox February 26, 2013 - 10:44 am

The MTA and the labor unions better recognize the tragedy of the commons situation surrounding and screaming at them UNLESS they have concrete plans on completely leaving the business of serving the general public.

I do agree that whether the MTA and the labor unions bicker over issues or come to a mutual agreement, riders and non-riding taxpayers in the New York City metropolitan area end up paying for it either way. They won’t be able to continue to play this game indefinitely.

Except for corporate-level financial institution employees, engineers at some established technology firms and a few other privileged positions, the rest of us who still has a paying job/profession are seeing our take-home pay decreasing (through actual pay cuts or erosion of purchase power from stagnant wages/minimal increases) and high fares/taxes edging ever closer to unsustainability. The MTA, the labor unions and some of the rank-and-file personnel will eventually find themselves with nothing to sustain them if they insist upon remaining oblivious.

While I hate to have the crab mentality, painful changes are in order. Among other things, this may include split shifts for full-time employees where appropriate and otherwise reassignment to more productive roles. Eliminate executives and contractors who do not have a productive role on the ground or in the planning room working on day-to-day operations or longer term practical projects.

Recognize that some jobs and professions don’t have too much rest time scheduled in the workday to begin with (from personal experience, the best example I can think of is public school teachers who actually teach a full load inside the classroom – that’s a skilled profession of a different kind working in the public service). Also recognize that more people than ever are not getting paid for even PRODUCTIVE work time in many jobs and professions (private and public sectors). The way things are going, this may very well be a trend for a long time.

Larry Littlefield February 26, 2013 - 11:24 am

“Recognize that some jobs and professions don’t have too much rest time scheduled in the workday to begin with (from personal experience, the best example I can think of is public school teachers who actually teach a full load inside the classroom.”

Not in NYC.

Theorem Ox February 26, 2013 - 2:47 pm

“Not in NYC.”

Not sure where you have taught at, but very much so in New York City. In four different high schools I’ve had either had the pleasure (or misfortune in some cases) to teach at.

Larry Littlefield February 27, 2013 - 7:50 am

No preparation periods? Back to back classes all day? That would be unusual I would think.

Nathanael February 27, 2013 - 12:07 pm

Pretty common these days. They still get a lunch break, but that’s government-mandated.

Someone February 26, 2013 - 12:46 pm

“If some schmuck wants to work part-time, go get a job at Best Buy.”

Now, THAT’S the spirit!

Spendmore Wastemore February 26, 2013 - 1:53 pm

“If some schmuck wants to work part-time, go get a job at Best Buy.”

So the people doing the most to pay TWU member’s $100,000 top line are scmucks. Those “shmucks” are the one who need to ride public transit frequently to get to multiple part time jobs.

Next contract, split shifts for train and bus operators. Have the National Guard trained to run the system in an emergency mode (we need that anyway), let TWU strike/drag things out in court, then when they strike give it 2 weeks of emergency service, then de-certify the union.

Then auction the jobs: pay whatever it takes to get groups of 1000 qualified, reliable people to apply and contract to stay for at least one year. I’ll be that’s a lot less than the $60-100K a typical TWU takes home.

Theorem Ox February 26, 2013 - 3:11 pm

Absolutely agree with the first statement. Top brass everywhere rarely seem to be cognizant of the people who allow (in the loose sense of that word) them to exercise power/maintain hierarchy and are quick to show contempt. They’re straddling a thin line where they can become the very same pitiful people they are quick to deride!

I appreciate the sentiments of the second statement, but regarding strikebreaking of the transit system: I know everybody was new to the job at one point or another, but I’d keep in mind some of the reasons behind the 1918 Malbone Street Wreck.

nycpat February 26, 2013 - 11:50 pm

Soldiers operating the subways. JEEzus H christ.

Alon Levy February 28, 2013 - 9:46 pm

If they have Iraqi subway riders, US soldiers will deal with them in a way that will quickly solve all subway crowding problems.

pete February 26, 2013 - 4:07 pm

Some drivers go home and sleep on half-pay MTA break time between morning and evening rush. Other drivers get part time jobs for the half pay time. If the driver gets a part time job during the day, 6 figure income for the drivers family. Either decrease rush hour service frequency (supply and demand says job working hours will change if the transit system is impossible) or cut the break time and make all drivers part timers.

Boris February 26, 2013 - 5:02 pm

There isn’t a single set of rush hours that are set in stone for all drivers. Driver shifts vary, and the amounts of their downtime vary depending on their particular schedules, which they get to pick, in order of their seniority, every quarter.

The software NYCT uses matches up trips to create the most optimal workloads possible. For example, it uses options like bus interlining or assigning a local route for a driver returning from a morning rush express bus run. But the algorithm’s effectiveness is limited by various constraints (including union rules such as the prohibition on midday storage of express buses in Manhattan).

In principle I agree that part-time shifts should be allowed, but if all one wants to do is save $13 million there are less sensitive union rules one can go after.

Duke February 26, 2013 - 9:50 pm

Another radical solution the TWU would never allow would be to have some operators do other jobs outside of rush hours. Drive a train 6 AM to 10 AM, take a 30 minute break, grab a mop and clean parked trains from 10:30 to 2:30. Pay them as if they’re driving a train the whole time if that makes them happy…

nycpat February 26, 2013 - 11:30 pm

There is no swingtime in subways like in buses. There is plenty of work before and after the rushes putting in and laying up trains.

Noah February 26, 2013 - 11:31 pm

Here is the solution and here is a problem with my solution, and the solution to said second problem.

The solution is to actually just hire more full time employees. This is good for the union (they get more members) and will be cheaper and it would save money. Overtime was created as a way to disincentive employers from making employees work more than 40 hrs, but with the understanding that in some situations it would be necessary people to work more than 40 hrs in extenuating circumstances, e.g. natural disasters.

What’s the problem with this problem? Well the problem is benefits. Add on one more employee and you not only add their salary, but you also add their retirement and insurance. The retirement is a red herring in some ways because pension payouts are generally based on final salary including OT. This means that eliminating OT eliminates the increased pension payout of an added employee. On that note we need to make sure that Social security is not only kept alive, but also strengthened. Healthcare, now that is the problem. Now this isn’t a problem most other western developed countries have to the extent that we have.

So what’s the solution to the second problem? Universal healthcare.

If the additional people are added efficiently then the MTA could possibly save money and increase base pay. I’d also like to say that a 6 day work week with a 6 hour day seems like a reasonable solution to me as well. This isn’t uncommon in many jobs, and it might keep us safer. Also I don’t think our drivers should be driving for more than 8hrs a day and shouldn’t have breaks, I mean, I don’t want sleepy drivers.

Nathanael February 27, 2013 - 12:06 pm

I generally agree with you. This is the key part:

“So what’s the solution to the second problem? Universal healthcare.”

Except it has to be *single-payer* healthcare, like Canada. (Or a National Health Service like the UK, that would work too.)

(*As long as health insurance is tied to employment*, we get the same nonsense where employers prefer part-timers and overtime to ordinary full-timers.)

Single-payer or NHS now would solve a LOT of problems.

nycpat February 26, 2013 - 11:40 pm

Was the bus driver who made 120,000 NYCT/MABSTOA or MTA Bus? Was he even local 100? These articles seemingly always conflate things to make TWU the bad guys. Like the last time about overtime abuse. Of the top 100 earners in the MTA not one was a TWU 100 member. Not one.

Nathanael February 27, 2013 - 12:04 pm

Has the TWU noticed that the entire US has gone to part-time employment?

Provide part-timers with full benefits and *raise the wages of the part-timers* so that they can feed and house themselves on a part-time wage (just themselves, because nobody can feed and house a family on a single salary or wage any more) — and then what’s the problem with part-timer workers? NOTHING.

Advocating in favor of overtime is crazy. Obviously the MTA doesn’t want to hire full-timers to sit around. I really don’t understand why the TWU can’t approach things from a different perspective, one focused on their long-term goal rather than short-term “don’t change anything” thinking. When given a proposal for part-time workers, say “Nothing less than half-time and with full benefits. Deal?” and see what the MTA’s response is.


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