Home Transit LaborTWU MTA, TWU set to meet again

MTA, TWU set to meet again

by Benjamin Kabak

It’s been a long time since we’ve heard any sort of update on the status of the contract negotiations between the MTA and TWU — a very long time in fact. With the MTA presenting numerous budget projections with the net-zero labor increase baked in and the TWU agitating against it at everyone opportunity, the two sides haven’t sat down with each other in over a year, and discussions before that were hardly fruitful. Jay Walder and the TWU didn’t get along, and Joe Lhota hardly made solving the contract conundrum a priority during his short time with the agency.

Now, though, as Pete Donohue reports, the two sides will resume meeting to work toward a deal. The TWU has been without a valid contract for 19 months, and they want to see a change. Donohue reports:

Transport Workers Union Local 100 will bolster its case for modest wage increases with a campaign stressing the hard work and sacrifices bus and subway workers made during and after the deluge. “Hurricane Sandy changed everything,” Local 100 President John Samuelsen said. “It’s only appropriate to review and rehash the incredible work New York City transit workers did in getting New York City back on its feet.”

… The stakes are high when the two sides sit down Sept. 30 — and not just for the approximately 36,000 transit workers. An MTA-TWU contract could set the pattern for talks between City Hall and other municipal unions if accompanied by two conditions: The pact is deemed favorable by organized labor, and Democrat Bill de Blasio, the mayoral candidate unions largely support, wins in November, said Lee Adler, senior associate at Cornell University’s Industrial Labor Relations School.

… The MTA insists it can’t afford raises without work-rule changes and efficiency measures to pay for them. The implication is that the authority, which already plans to raise fares again in 2015 by approximately 7.5%, might have to boost its prices even higher without a “net-zero” agreement. The MTA also wants to loosen contract language prohibiting it from eliminating conductor positions on the vast majority of subway trains, a move that would leave riders with just the motorman during emergencies until additional help arrives.

I’m not sure I see the logic in the TWU’s position with regards to the Sandy response. It’s true that workers were asked to go above and beyond for it, but it’s also true that overtime pay was part of the equation. Meanwhile, one telling statement from Tom Prendergast earlier this week provides some insight into management’s thinking. “The farepayers have done a lot, if not more than their fair share,” he said of the MTA’s ongoing struggles with their budget. “Management has done a lot; labor hasn’t.”

Tie wage increases into productivity gains. Allow for OPTO. Don’t allow for another three years of wage increases without something in return. That’s the current stalemate, and it’s not likely to break any time soon.

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Stephen Smith September 20, 2013 - 3:16 pm

Given the (insane) New York state law that essentially serves as rent control for the state’s union contracts, making them never-expiring, the only way that TWU would accept OPTO would be if the MTA agreed to retrain all conductors as higher-paid operators, which would of course require a doubling of the number of trains the MTA runs per day. They may be able to do this a little bit by bumping up nighttime frequencies, when the marginal cost of extra runs is pretty low, but without more money for ops or some serious productivity boosts elsewhere, neither of which seem likely, I don’t see why the TWU would agree to OPTO, which isn’t gonna come with a significant pay boost.

The only way I see this impasse resolving itself is it Albany does away with the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law. In retrospect, the occasional strike is well worth the ability to renegotiate contracts when they expire, which the Triborough Amendment does not allow state agencies to do. Yeah, it sucks that French railway workers are always on strike, but on net French rail labor relations lead to much healthier public transit agencies than New York’s no-strikes-but-also-never-ending-contracts style of labor relations.

Your move, Cuomo.

Stephen Smith September 20, 2013 - 3:28 pm

Oh, I should add that attrition is another way that the MTA could transition to OPTO. This wouldn’t be ideal from the MTA’s point of view since it would take decades, but it’s better than nothing.

But for TWU leadership, this would be very bad, as the amount of union dues they rake in would decrease. And eventually TWU rank and file retirees would also feel the pinch, as the number of workers paying into their retirements would decline.

Bolwerk September 20, 2013 - 7:50 pm

I agree they should get rid of the rigid labor negotiation rules, but I do favor trying to retain good relations with workers. One start: build a light rail system, which we need desperately, and make it easy to transfer existing conductors to that role, while transitioning the subway to OPTO with an eye toward eventual ZPTO.

Probably can’t keep everybody, but a growing MTA means more employment in the future than a stagnant MTA. Still, significantly more operators would be needed for an LRT system than for a subway, and that pool of talent is already there in-house in abundance.

Alon Levy September 20, 2013 - 10:32 pm

Actually, light rail is terrible from the point of view of providing more jobs, because it comes at the expense of buses.

Bolwerk September 20, 2013 - 10:46 pm

Only if you move to rail and then throw out the buses and (skilled) drivers, which I think would be wasteful.

It makes more sense to move core surface routes to higher-capacity LRT and utilize the buses to expand service to under-served areas. It’s a favor for bus drivers too, who get a less stressful job out of the deal, while the presently almost useless conductors get a “promotion” to operator.

Alon Levy September 21, 2013 - 12:15 am

In thick markets, rail replaces bus service rather than adds to it. For example, because of the removal of limited-stop buses, Translink expects net operating costs to go down if it builds rail service along Broadway to UBC, and it expects subway service (which would be driverless) to reduce operating costs the most.

Adding rail service only adds operating expenses in areas where there’s not much ridership, so you can’t replace three buses with a train without cutting frequencies to unacceptable levels. In Metro Vancouver, this is the other proposed SkyTrain extension, into Surrey or Langley.

Bolwerk September 21, 2013 - 1:20 am

I wasn’t suggesting keeping the buses on railified routes at all. They should be utilized to create new feeder routes in periphery areas that don’t have any service, nowhere near the surface rail that replaced their old routes. There are plenty of places in NYC that could use brand spanking new buses routes, even if the buses are hand-me-downs from former bus routes elsewhere.

Laying off bus drivers because rail reduces the operating costs may not even be economical when they can have value elsewhere. Except for a relatively high capital investment, which should reduce costs in the long run, what I suggested above seems like it could be a great way to better utilize labor and useful skills in a way that grows the system not too expensively.

Stephen Smith September 21, 2013 - 4:43 am

Probably can’t keep everybody, but a growing MTA means more employment in the future than a stagnant MTA.

Can’t keep everybody? You can’t really keep anybody – have you seen the dire fiscal straits the MTA is in? They’re asking for $100+ billion over the next 20 years and not a penny of it will go to expanding the system. A bit will go to running more trains (i.e., buying rolling stock and upgrading electronics to handle more trains during peak periods), so there are a few dozen more operator jobs, and you may get a few more out of increased night and weekend frequencies, but we’re not talking anywhere near the amount needed to replace all of the conductors that would be put out of work by OPTO (or, god forbid/god willing, ZPTO).

I used to think that it’d be possible to dump conductors (on subway and regional rail) while making their jobs up with increased service, but the more I think about it, I don’t think it can be done. Remember, when Japan privatized JNR and spun it off into the JR companies, they cut tens of thousands of jobs.

Obviously it turned out for the best – privatization has been a resounding success – but it required massive job losses, on a scale that will be totally impossible without Albany doing away with the Triborough Amendment and allowing the MTA to unilaterally impose new contracts upon the expiration of old ones.

Much as I wish there’s a win-win that uses system expansion to appease the unions, I don’t think even under the most generous circumstances we’re going to find it. There’s just too much waste and overstaffing at the MTA to maintain current employment levels under any serious efficiency members.

Stephen Smith September 21, 2013 - 4:44 am

Sorry, *under any serious efficiency measures.

Ben – fix the site so that we can edit our comments within two minutes (or whatever) of posting!

Bolwerk September 21, 2013 - 1:19 pm

The MTA probably isn’t in particularly dire straits. The state is ultimately going to have to take responsibility for the debt, which is should have done in the first place, or risk its own credit. At the very least, it can’t risk frightening bond buyers away from every other marionettepublic benefit corporation the state has founded.

I think you’re overreacting to the $100B. I couldn’t find exact numbers to discount (got any?) before, except hints in a Lexis-Nexis search, but $100B seems in line with the first 20 years of the capital program, and since they’re talking about $100B in disbursements starting over 20 years, it’s actually going to be significantly less because of future inflation. Assuming 3% inflation, the present value is around $75B, assuming they are spending $5B/year. $5B/year is $380/MTA-territory (pop.: >13,000,000) resident each year.

There is waste and overstaffing at the MTA, but NYCTA seems better in that regard. On the operation side, the token booth clerks could mostly just be dispensed with, and the conductors aren’t particularly useful. No idea what to say about management, but could we even save a billion operating dollars a year through staff removal?

Stephen Smith September 21, 2013 - 2:31 pm

Oh my phone so no link, but I found the exact 20-year capital numbers the other day with Ben’s help, and minus mega projects (not included in $100bn ask), the last 20 years got around $66bn, adjusted for inflation, in capital money. So they’re asking for 50% more than they got last time. Are the feds and state feeling 50% more generous this time around? I doubt it.

Bolwerk September 21, 2013 - 2:53 pm

$66B in 2013 dollars though? $66B in 1985 dollars is like $116B in 2004 dollars. $66B in 1995 dollars is already $101B in 2013 dollars.

Stephen Smith September 21, 2013 - 3:34 pm

Sorry, I misremembered – it was actually $99 billion, in 2011 dollars, for thirty years. IIRC, the MTA’s recent $100+ billion 20-year ask is in 2013 dollars. Anyway, practically speaking, same result – they want 50% more money per year than they got from 1982 to 2011, excluding system expansion money (and actually I think the $99 billion figure includes some system expansion money from the time before MTA Capital Construction Co. was created).

Here’s the data I’m working with, page 4: http://www.pcac.org/wp-content.....auto,0,282

Bolwerk September 21, 2013 - 5:10 pm

I’ll read over that, thanks.

Barring the possibility that they are just trying to ask high to bid low, it’s still not the amount that gets me so much as what we’re getting for the amount. Ben reported $18B for signaling over 20 years, but didn’t give many other specifics.

Another thing to note, though, is the work done at the beginning of the 1980s is probably due for replacement by the early 2020s.

Bolwerk September 21, 2013 - 3:01 pm

Oh, any chance of you (or Ben?) posting those year-over-year capital budget numbers? It could make for some interesting comparisons.

Larry Littlefield September 22, 2013 - 3:02 pm

The state didn’t put in much of anything over the past 20 years. Neither did the city.

Stephen Smith September 21, 2013 - 2:34 pm

And re: waste and overstaffing – conductors and booth attendants are just what we can see. Who the hell knows what goes on in the tunnels and maintenance shops. But Alon’s done comparisons of overall staffing numbers at NYCTA vs. Tokyo’s subways, and we are waaaay overstaffed. It’s not just the conductors and booth attendants.

Bolwerk September 21, 2013 - 3:00 pm

I actually thought the maintenance shops were pretty well-handled, though track maintenance may be another story (we can see implied overstaffing there by how many people are standing around). I think some of both has to be attributable to the capital budget, in any case, though the MTA does seem to outsource some of its more expensive refurbishment to distant private shops.

But I’m not downplaying that human capital is retadedly mismanaged.

Stephen Smith September 21, 2013 - 3:23 pm

The track maintenance stuff that astounds me is that they have people working in the tunnels while trains are running, which has got to be hugely inefficient, since the trains have to slow down and the people have to scurry for safety every 20 minutes at night. I see this allllll the time on the Q train tracks at Union Square at night, which confuses me because it’s not like there isn’t a ton of extra capacity on the local tracks.

Nathanael September 24, 2013 - 10:26 am

There is definitely evidence of trouble in the track maintenance — including the falsified paperwork cases not long ago.

Fool September 21, 2013 - 8:19 pm

MTA Bus Co. still sub contracts out some maintenance functions -a holdover of the DOT days. It is fairly unique 1 to 1 comparison of NYCT waste in some situations.

Nathanael September 24, 2013 - 10:25 am

New York State public employee labor law needs to be reformed.

TWU Local 100 has been completely unreasonable for decades, and it seems that this is due to the abusive nature of the NY public employee labor law.

Larry Littlefield September 20, 2013 - 9:56 pm

The key issue is how have most New Yorkers fared in the past five years?

We have some idea because the American Community Survey just came out. From 2008 to 2012, the inflation rate was 6.1%. Adjusted for that, NYC median household income fell 5.5% and mean household income fell 7.7%. (U.S. median household income fell 10.0%).

My understanding is that the TWU got 8.0% raises at the start of this period, right? That’s a 2.0% increase relative to five years of inflation right there, vs. a 5.5% decrease for the typical NYC household trying to pay for the fair.

Understand this: the public employee unions and contractors are out of solidarity with other workers, just like the one percent.

Nathanael September 24, 2013 - 10:28 am

Specifically in New York City, you are correct. TWU Local 100 seems to be very much out of solidarity.

"Tony" September 21, 2013 - 1:14 am

Scare tactic from the union towards it’s constituents regarding OPTO. Nowhere has the MTA stated that they want OPTOize the vast majority of the system. They want OPTO where it “makes sense”, on shuttle routes that utilize TPTO and on the L and 7. Nothing more, nothing less.

Bolwerk September 21, 2013 - 1:24 am

Eh, until someone quantifies this conductor thing, it sounds like a crock that they should be there the majority of the time at all. What is the chance a conductor makes a difference in an emergency? How often are they just another body to mutilate?

I could see the need or use during rush hour, but otherwise it mostly seems pointless.

Mr. Roboto September 22, 2013 - 7:55 pm

When are robots replacing motormen so we don’t have to worry about this issues anymore? Gee whiz it’s almost 2014, The Jetsons came out in the 60s…….


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