Home Transit Labor Report: MTA dismisses arbitrator for pro-TWU rulings

Report: MTA dismisses arbitrator for pro-TWU rulings

by Benjamin Kabak

It’s not uncommon in arbitration relationships to see one side dismiss the impartial arbiter after a few major cases fall the other way. Major League Baseball, for instance jettisoned Shyam Das after he sided with Ryan Braun in Braun’s original challenge to his PED suspension. Now, according to the Daily News, the MTA has dismissed Richard Adelman after a few too many pro-TWU rulings. The news comes just one day after a report explained how this arbitrator required the MTA to continue a program to ferry unionized bus drivers around the city due to seniority work rules at a cost of $270,000 annually.

In his piece on Adelman’s dismissal, Pete Donohue had this to say:

Last week, a transit executive informed Adelman in a letter that the MTA “has decided to discontinue your services.” An agency spokesman declined to comment. Adelman, 72, didn’t speculate on why he was getting the boot. “Being replaced goes with the territory,” Adelman told The News. “I think every arbitrator understands that.”

But transit officials had grown increasingly frustrated with Adelman’s rulings, which often favored the union and its interpretation of the joint labor contract, said Local 100 lawyer Arthur Schwartz. The role of an impartial arbitrator is not to decide whether a rule or practice is the most efficient from a management point of view. The arbitrator decides whether or not a rule or practice is consistent with the language that labor and management officials previously hammered out in negotiations.

During his tenure, Adelman has thwarted MTA attempts to expand the now-limited use of conductorless subway trains, a major cost-cutting goal. Just a week before getting canned, Adelman incensed transit management when he ruled NYC Transit couldn’t fire a union official who allegedly made inappropriate sexual comments to two female bus dispatchers. Contract language designed to protect union officials from management retaliation in most cases prevents management from pursuing disciplinary charges against a union official — as long as the official is on the TWU payroll, Adelman ruled. If an official returns to his original day job — in this case, driving a bus — the MTA can take disciplinary action.

TWU officials claim the MTA cannot unilaterally dismiss the arbitrator and say they will fight the move. But most arbitration agreement allow either party to fire the person chosen as referee.

Meanwhile, I have to wonder if this is a sign that the MTA is willing to play hardball with the TWU as contract negotiations remain an open concern. Adelman, in 2005, torpedoed OPTO, and as the MTA continues to eye aggressive cost-cutting measures, it could again try to push one-person train operations. Either way, this is likely not the last we’ll hear of this tale.

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BBnet3000 August 15, 2013 - 6:34 pm

Having an unnecessary and costly second person on the train for the sole purpose of putting someone to work seems ridiculous to me.

Could they pay them half as much to sit home while they run OPTO?

D.R. Graham August 15, 2013 - 7:27 pm

Is that really what you think the job entails because if you do that is blind sided ignorance.

Just remember that the next time a passenger gets sick on a train all the way in the back and the conductor comes to inspect from 5 cars away as opposed to the train operator at 10.

Just remember that the next time you get ready to put your hand in the closing doors at 14th St Union Square and the conductor sees you and reopens the doors as opposed to the train operator who won’t see you from that distance and on a curve.

Just remember that the next time you’re at Grand Central and the loads of people who would typically refuse to let the doors close are assisted by that conductor in a vest standing on the platform.

VLM August 15, 2013 - 7:41 pm

This is blindingly oblivious New York exceptionalism at its finest. I wouldn’t necessarily characterize the second person as working for the sake of drawing a salary, but if transit systems bigger and more crowded than ours can survive with OPTO or ZPTO, why can’t New York’s? The sick passenger line is just union BS.

D.R. Graham August 15, 2013 - 8:07 pm

Not quite union BS. I’ll put it to you this way. It’s transit policy due to litigation risk that no sick person is ever left alone. So when you hear that message due to a sick passenger service is delayed just think about how delayed everyone behind that train is when one person has to walk the full length of the train but further more since there is only one person who can stay with the passenger if a supervisor can’t get to the scene in a timely fashion or at all even if the sick person is on the platform that train now has to wait until police/ems arrive to take over for the train operator where if it is a conductor. The conductor will be directed to stay with the person on the platform and the train operator will be directed to take the train out of service and move it out of the station. So all following trains can continue service.

I’m sorry but people should think before making random comments. The union doesn’t make operator protocol/rules. NYCT/MTA makes the rules.

Alon Levy August 15, 2013 - 11:32 pm

Have those people ever heard of Vancouver?

Bus Nut August 16, 2013 - 12:29 pm

Vancouver’s SkyTrain is an extraordinarily smaller system. Most transit trips there are made on 40-foot vehicles. If one is delayed another one will be pulling up shortly.

Boston is more comparable to NYC and while MBTA’s management has pushed hard for OPTO, it seems that patrons there are quite a bit more skeptical. In fact, MBTA was forced to beef up plainsclothes transit police as a condition of Blue Line OPTO, each of whom is paid much more per hour than the conductor-assistant who has been replaced.

There is no exceptionalism here. Older, legacy subway systems were built for 2-3 man operation, not one-man or automated operation. Furthermore, the drop in personnel per vehicle since the 1940s has led to an increase on assaults on employees. That is a FACT. I would be very much surprised if it hasn’t also led to increased assaults on passengers as well.

Bolwerk August 16, 2013 - 12:52 pm

Cites plz? This all smells like bullshit. Are transit employees trained in martial arts or something? Going by what your average transit employees looks like in terms of age and health – not so different than the general public, though probably older than the typical violent criminal – methinks they’re just more potential victims, if somebody is really inclined to commit an assault for whatever reason.

Alon Levy August 16, 2013 - 6:43 pm

First, the vehicles are never 40′. The Expo Line trains at rush hour are 200′, the Canada Line trains are (always) 130′.

Second, what does vehicle length have to do with anything? If a train is delayed, it mucks up the track, regardless of how long it is.

And third, Paris recently automated a subway line from 1900 and is automating one from 1908. And if you want to look down on small transit systems like SkyTrain, then the T isn’t much larger, while Paris is a perfectly good comparison for New York.

Epson45 August 16, 2013 - 4:49 pm

They are two different systems, no comparisons.

Bolwerk August 16, 2013 - 1:23 am

You know, even if that’s true, it’s not worth it and it’s not an excuse. Spending those resources to provide more service on OPTO trains does endlessly more good for riders and the public than having a standby hero for the occasional incident where a conductor makes a useful difference to safety, much less is useful in an emergency.

If conductors are useful for emergencies, they should come out of the emergency services budget at the FDNY or NYPD, not the transit budget.

The union doesn’t make operator protocol/rules. NYCT/MTA makes the rules.

The union doesn’t make the rules, it just stops them from changing even if they’re dumb?

pete August 19, 2013 - 1:39 am

What a straw man. Conductors have door lights. They dont need to see you to know something is blocking the door. Even if there is a conductor, the conductor can’t be left behind on the platform with the sick passenger until ems shows up. Whether OPTO or 2 man trains, nothing will change regarding sick passengers. Take the train out of service? and park it where? There is a pocket track at each station? Sure.

Bolwerk August 16, 2013 - 1:25 am

So you’re conflating the guy on the occasional super-crowded platform who is managing overcrowding with extra guy on every train?

Crowd control on super-busy platforms makes sense. But so does OPTO.

shawn August 16, 2013 - 9:04 am

The job of the mta isn’t to provide make work jobs. It needs to increase service and right now one of the biggest impediments to increasing service is the too high cost of employees including pension obligations. The mta and twu need to enter the 21st century with more automation and fewer expensive employees.

Larry Littlefield August 16, 2013 - 9:09 am

Understand what “too high” has to mean. The employees are much richer than the customers, who can thus afford fewer of them.

That’s a problem throughout public service right now, due to the retroactive pension enrichments of the stock market bubble era. The only places than can afford public services are separate suburban municipalities populated almost exclusively by the one percent.

The thing is, no matter how many fewer employees you have, that does nothing to change the costs from the past. Ask Detroit.

Nathanael August 17, 2013 - 5:36 am

I’ve never seen an NYC subway conductor do ANYTHING. Get rid of them.

Duke August 15, 2013 - 11:44 pm

In what crazy world does it make sense that you can’t fire someone for multiple incidents of sexual harassment? Policies like this favor offenders over victims. So much for protecting your employees.

Larry Littlefield August 16, 2013 - 9:05 am

“Just a week before getting canned, Adelman incensed transit management when he ruled NYC Transit couldn’t fire a union official who allegedly made inappropriate sexual comments to two female bus dispatchers.”

The question is, who can the female dispatchers sue? The MTA or the TWU? If it is the TWU, then it might be reasonable to say it is up to the union to fire its representative.

But if not, the TWU can run a scam in which its union reps “harrass” employees who then sue the MTA.

Normative August 16, 2013 - 12:14 pm

Motorsmen/women and conductors are making pretty standard middle class wages. (I believe, but can’t say for certain, Motorsmen start at around 40k). Moreover, pensions are a problem for many city and state governments, as are health care costs. These are difficult and complex issues, grounded in issues of historical investment, market trends, average age of workforces through out the Pension Tiers, et al. Anyone who says more automation and less employees, or the opposite, just wants a slogan and not a serious solution.

In london, during peak hours, many stations have a worker who stands on the platform and makes announcements via a handheld microphone that is hooked up to the speaker system. Most of the time he is constantly reminding people to let others off first before getting on.

Bolwerk August 16, 2013 - 12:45 pm

No, automation is a proven solution that works the world over, not a slogan (whatever that means).

And hourly pay according to this is $29 or above. Some are pulling in six figures. Meanwhile, conductors make in the very high five figures ($25+/hr). That all sounds a bit high to me, but forget that and just consider that the extra body is literally pushing labor costs/train up by at least 2/3. That’s nuts. We could probably use those resources to, I dunno, run more trains? Reactivate the Rockaway Line? I dunno, there’s a lot that can be done with it besides blow it on a needless second position.

In london, during peak hours, many stations have a worker who stands on the platform and makes announcements via a handheld microphone that is hooked up to the speaker system.

You will find the same position on the 7 Train in the evening at Grand Central. It’s a logical position with a tailored purpose. A conductor sitting on an off-peak train experiencing average or below average loads is a pretty silly, wasteful.

Normative August 16, 2013 - 2:53 pm

I am not sure where you are getting that figure from on the site and I couldn’t create a start pay figure, but if according to a person I know who just became a conductor, they start at about 20 an hour. After a couple years that increases, and I think it goes to anywhere from 25-29.

As a % of total conductors, I highly doubt there are many at all making over 100k. You can work overtime 12 hr a day 6 days a week (some might), but you don’t seem to have any data that shows that it is a pervasive problem.

“literally pushing labor costs/train up by at least 2/3.” There would almost certainly need to be software upgrades and maintenance, and train investments, so it can’t be 2/3. It would cost Less, but not just a net subtraction of all conductor’s salaries; you’re forgetting the costs of implementation and maintenance.

If your interested more generally about benchmarks for efficiency in the TA, check out “Benchmarking Efficiency for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Services” from the Citizens Budget Commission. If I remember correctly, vehicle operations in NYC ranked high in many of the metrics, but this is wider topic than just conductors.

“A conductor sitting on an off-peak train experiencing average or below average loads is a pretty silly, wasteful.”
If I understand the issue currently, the trains currently aren’t designed to allow the doors to be controlled manually during part of the day and then automatically by a computer during other parts of the day.

I am actually not against one person employee trains, but your arguments are poor.

Alon Levy August 16, 2013 - 6:52 pm

To see the wages, click on the “Agency/Area” field, select MTA, then select NYCT under “SubAgency/Employer” and various flavors of train operator or engineer under “Position.” Few train drivers on NYCT make six figures; the average is about $70,000.

Doors can be opened with the push of the bottom by the train driver. The capital investment required for OPTO on most trains (the ones with a full-width cab) is pretty small.

Bolwerk August 16, 2013 - 9:06 pm

My “arguments” are almost positive, not normative. Maybe you’re right that they should sometimes upgrade some things before going OPTO, but it’s not strictly impossible to have OPTO without that. Like Alon says, some cars don’t have full-width cabs. Of course, I’m open to the idea that TwPTO might remain appropriate at rush hour for a time – I just don’t really buy that it’s appropriate at all times on every line.

Here’s the normative part: we need an exit plan. The idea that the current system should be the default is silly. We could get rid of the conductors, use the savings to invest in upgrades, and come out with more safety in the long run.

I remember the vehicle efficiency study when it came out, and as I recall the efficiency seemed meh. Subways on account of their length and size had what appeared to be reasonable per-vehicle efficiency, while buses did not. Still, if conductors make 2/3 or 3/4 what motormen make, they’re not-quite-doubling labor costs of running a single additional train. That’s a big blow to vehicle efficiency for a rather flimsy safety argument.

Nathanael August 17, 2013 - 5:38 am

If safety is the concern, get more roving transit cops & more platform attendants,

Bolwerk August 17, 2013 - 9:46 am

Yeah, I love how they argue that this is about safety, but then they want to cloister these safety agents: conductors in cabs where passengers would struggle to reach them under the best circumstances, and token booth clerks in glass boxes.

Though, really, the best thing for safety is to just expand the subway system and reduce car usage.

Chris C August 17, 2013 - 8:30 am

TWU wants a payrise but MTA has no money.

MTA should be saying – stop this waste and that £270k can go into a pot that can be used for pay rises / benefits

No doubt there are dozens and dozens of other such examples of inefficiencies in the system which if the TWU gave up then there would be the $$ for a pay rise.

As for the allegations of sexual misconduct these should be investigated whoever employes the alleged perpetrator.


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