Home Transit LaborTWU TWU ratifies contract as LIRR’s UTU strike looms

TWU ratifies contract as LIRR’s UTU strike looms

by Benjamin Kabak

As the MTA Board gears up to validate the new TWU contract on Wednesday, the union met for a vote yesterday, and the deal passed with an overwhelming majority. Over 80 percent of the rank-and-file voted in favor of the agreement — which grants modest retroactive and future raises while requiring higher healthcare contributions. It doesn’t have the work rule reform many had hoped, but it ushers in some peace after years of rancorous negotiations between the TWU and various MTA heads.

Now, attention will turn to the east as the Long Island Rail Road, whose workers can legally strike, gears up for some labor unrest. The UTU has already authorized a strike for late July, and unless the MTA and its LIRR union can come to an agreement soon, the eastern suburbs will be look at a rough summer. The TWU though may be the savior for Long Island riders hoping against a strike. The subway union and the new contract may also be just the thing the MTA needs to put some added pressure on the UTU.

In a paywalled article for Newsday, Alfonso Castillo follows that thread. It could be worse; it could be better. Castillo writes:

An LIRR union source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the TWU’s approval of the contract increases the likelihood of a railroad strike, as LIRR unions have lost some leverage at the bargaining table. “The MTA is going to dig their heels in now,” said the source, adding that the subway workers’ ratification gave the MTA’s case “validity.”

Without an agreement in place, 6,000 LIRR workers could legally strike as early as July 20, stranding some 300,000 daily riders who use the nation’s largest commuter railroad. The LIRR unions have said the MTA’s proposed contract is worth far less to LIRR workers than to subway workers, who will see several new perks that would not benefit railroad workers, including free rides on the LIRR. Railroad workers would also see a far bigger increase in employee health benefit contributions than transit workers will under the contract.

The unions have demanded that the MTA accept the more lucrative terms of a White House-appointed mediation board, which in December called for 17 percent raises for workers, and smaller health care cost contributions. A second Presidential Emergency Board was set to issue its recommendation for a fair LIRR contract Tuesday, just 60 days before a strike could be called. Losing the presidential board’s support a day after subway workers ratified their contract would be a “worst-case scenario,” the union source said. “That would definitely lead to a collision course.”

TWU officials, rightly so, declined to take a stance on the United Transportation Union situation. “I’m the president of the TWU Local 100. I’m not the president of the Long Island Rail Road coalition,” John Samuelson said to Newsday. “We have long-standing benefit issues that the Long Island Rail Road folks didn’t have.”

The MTA, meanwhile, claims they are committed to resolving the outstanding dispute with the UTU at the bargaining table and preferably before a strike. The clock is ticking though, and in two months, the LIRR would effectively shut down for substitute bus service until the two sides agree. As workforce reform goes, it’s more important for the MTA to extract concessions from the LIRR union at this stage in the game, and a strike almost feels inevitable. We’ll see where we are in 60 days.

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Nathanael May 20, 2014 - 10:07 am

“As workforce reform goes, it’s more important for the MTA to extract concessions from the LIRR union at this stage in the game, ”

Just to reiterate, this is an understatement. The TWU work rules have a bunch of conductors doing basically nothing, but apart from that they’re fairly standard for rail transportation.

The LIRR work rules, on the other hand, are frankly an invitation for featherbedding and abuse.


And this isn’t even all of it. I haven’t mentioned the “disability” scandal, for example.

And that’s before even getting to the very high staffing levels per train.

anon_coward May 20, 2014 - 10:22 am

they do one conductor per 2 cars and can easily do 3 or 4

Alon Levy May 20, 2014 - 10:26 am

…or zero conductors!

anon_coward May 20, 2014 - 10:28 am

the single fare for all zones would be nice

SEAN May 20, 2014 - 10:49 am

And what should that fare be? – curious.

anon_coward May 20, 2014 - 10:51 am

less than montauk to Penn
more than woodside to penn

pick a number in between based on ridership to cover as much costs as possible

Patrick O'Hara May 20, 2014 - 12:34 pm

I, as someone who rides into zone 1 from Montauk, would like that very much. Someone going from Jamaica to Penn, probably wouldn’t.

You wouldn’t be able to go to a flat fare without either losing lots and lots of money or lots and lots of riders.

anon_coward May 20, 2014 - 12:47 pm

i bet they can probably keep the fares toward the low end if they go to one engineer and one conductor per train

figure those guys cost over $100,000 each for salaries, taxes and benefits

Larry Littlefield May 20, 2014 - 3:34 pm

“Figure those guys cost over $100,000 each for salaries, taxes and benefits.”

Double it plus, if pension costs are included.

Alon Levy May 21, 2014 - 8:51 pm

The Empire Center’s SeeThroughNY applet state the compensation at a little more than $100,000.

John May 22, 2014 - 11:58 am

This is a horrible idea. It’s incredibly inefficient, and would be very costly for the MTA, as well as causing a net loss for consumers.

Discriminatory pricing is more efficient.

Anon coward May 20, 2014 - 10:50 am


Did you ever hear of a little thing called the FRA ? LIRR is a state agency under federal control , these things are dictated by federal guidelines. Duh !

Bolwerk May 20, 2014 - 11:47 am

As I understand FRA regs, they demand someone on hand to do intermittent brake tests (e.g., when turning the train). It could be a conductor, but it doesn’t have to be. The minimum required crew size on an FRA railroad is still 1, but that 2 should be the practical upper limit demanded by necessity.

Alon Levy May 21, 2014 - 4:08 am

The FRA doesn’t mandate conductors; at worst, it mandates two employees per train, which is a lot less than what the LIRR chooses to run.

Stephen Smith May 21, 2014 - 4:12 am

I wish I could code, then I’d make a bot to comb transit forums and blogs and correct this very widespread misconception. THERE IS NO FRA RULE ON STAFFING. Not even for freight trains.

Unfortunately, you might be right soon. But you are wrong today, and if a major passenger railroad like the LIRR did away with conductors, I think the FRA would think twice about forcing it on them. (As it is now, they’d basically be codifying what is already standard practice on all but a handful of FRA-regulated lines, mainly those that already have waivers for railcar design, like the Red Line in Austin.)

Michael K May 20, 2014 - 10:48 am

Faregates at every station would be billions less than conductors.

SEAN May 20, 2014 - 11:04 am

I hope that was an atempt at humor. Seriously – how & or where would you place such gates. I could see several issues such as Minneola station wich is open to local streets on both sides. With that said, it is an interesting thaught.

Patrick O'Hara May 20, 2014 - 12:36 pm

It would be impossible to completely enclose dozens of stations due to their location, and even the stations that you can enclose, you are basically just inviting trespassing when people circumvent the gates and get up on the platforms via the right of way. Trespassing incidents are already bad enough on the railroad, and that would only make it considerably worse.

Michael K May 20, 2014 - 6:19 pm

It absolutely would not be difficult at all to put up fences and gates.

Michael K May 20, 2014 - 7:07 pm

Or dare I suggest Platform Doors? that would eliminate the “walk on the track and hop onto the platform issue” – which wouldn’t exist on the Babylon or Port Washington Lines.

Long Island is headed towards a much more urban future, since millenials cannot live there and houses are becoming subdivided illegally for multiple families in order to pay for the property tax.

That said, I think we will see quite a few grade crossing elimination projects in the coming capital plans.

Patrick O'Hara May 20, 2014 - 8:54 pm

The railroad is an open system, it would be impossible to enclose everything. There are fences and gates up all over the system already, yet dozens of people get onto the tracks and struck by trains anyways. How would you propose to get fences and gates up to protect platforms at stations that are surrounded by grade crossings? There’s no way to protect against that as the train would still have to get through.

Once you start talking about platform doors you are magnifying the cost substantially. You’re talking about hundreds of platforms and the cost would be significant. Do you have any actual numbers to prove that installing gates and platform doors at hundreds of platforms would be cheaper?

(And it would be possible on the Montauk Branch (there’s no such thing as the Babylon Branch) and Port Washington Branch. Several stations are on embankments, and it wouldn’t be impossible to walk up from the right of way on either side of the station. I don’t think you’re going to see a single grade crossing elimination project in any future capital plans. They are very expensive and annoy the NIMBYs much to much. There were 0 project mentioned in their 20 year needs assessment put out back in the fall, so we’re likely at least two decades away from any notable grade separations…)

Nathanael May 21, 2014 - 4:19 pm

Faregates wouldn’t be difficult. Large initial cost to install all of them, but there aren’t any *truly* open platforms (streetcar-style) — they’re all accessed by a limited number of access points.

Staffing every station would be 131 employees. Double-staffing every station (for those with a platform on each side, not connected) would be 262. This should be sufficient for generous and comfortable wheelchair access.

I don’t know whether this would be more or less than the number of conductors on duty at any given time. Perhaps it would be more.

Nathanael May 21, 2014 - 4:20 pm

(sorry, assistant conductors)

Alon Levy May 21, 2014 - 9:02 pm

Staffing suburban stations is a waste of money, except at the main connection points (Hicksville, Ronkonkoma, Great Neck, etc.). SkyTrain doesn’t even have staffed stations – it has roving agents, but not at every station as far as I can see.

The LIRR would need about 5 people working full time for every position, to cover the entire week and also cover downtime at the beginning and end of a shift. This is 650-1,300 station agents. There are 1,040 conductors.

Nathanael May 22, 2014 - 7:32 pm

Thanks for finding the numbers…

I’m kind of impressed that even a massive overkill operation of full staffing of stations would use fewer employees than the current conductor overstaffing. That’s what I suspected.

Bolwerk May 20, 2014 - 2:35 pm

POP is probably the cheaper, more practical solution.

Nathanael May 21, 2014 - 4:20 pm

England often uses a combination of POP and faregates at the busiest stations.

anon_coward May 22, 2014 - 7:42 pm

just do fare gates at the major stations and random checks like for SBS receipts everywhere else

Patrick O'Hara May 20, 2014 - 12:33 pm

For the most part, it is more like 3 or 4 per conductor. Other than rush hour trains that have several collectors west of Jamaica, there aren’t many examples where trains have more than one or two additional collectors.

SEAN May 20, 2014 - 3:10 pm

I have counted at least four conductors on nearly every train I have ritten between Penn Station & Hicksville. That’s one per three cars. I think on Metro-North it’s something like one per four cars, but NJ Transit has a very high staffing level as well. On a recent trip to Metropark, I saw the same conductor pass me at least four times & the train was nine bilevel cars.

Philip Marshall May 20, 2014 - 6:17 pm

To be more precise here, there is only one Conductor per train. The Conductor is the chief executive of the train, analogous to the captain of a ship. (The engineer may be operating the train, but he or she takes orders from the Conductor.) The additional collectors are merely Assistant Conductors, commonly called “trainmen” or “brakemen”.

Patrick O'Hara May 20, 2014 - 8:59 pm

On the LIRR, every train (except the Greenport scoots) has at a minimum one conductor and one assistant conductor. Trains can then have between 0 and 4 collectors. The majority of trains do not have any additional collectors, but there are rush hour trains that have some additional manpower. Frequently, collectors do not ride the entire length of the run, usually they will short-turn someplace along the branch after most of the tickets have been lifted and work another trains. Similarly, there are collectors that work trains west of Jamaica then transfer with the passengers to trains east of Jamaica. (There are also trains that have collectors get off and other ones get on, giving the illusion that there’s more people onboard when there really isn’t)

Do you have any specific examples, and I could look in the crew book? Unless you ride a handful of specific trains, I don’t see how you can count at least four conductors on every train you have ridden.

Anon coward May 20, 2014 - 7:29 pm

PEB 245 ruled in favor of the unions . Union has now won both boards

Spendmor Wastemor May 20, 2014 - 11:14 pm

So essentially there are several layers of F the public. If management, which is spending the public’s not their own money, fails to cave to six-figure pay for unskilled labor there’s a politically appointed backstop to insure the public loses. In the name of “fairness” of course.

Meanwhile J.Shmoe riding the thing does not make 100K and has NO company retirement plan. For an equally skilled job they’d make $10 to $25/hr (collector to engineer). That’s the J.Shmoe who is paying for the entire operation.

Bolwerk May 20, 2014 - 11:49 pm

Point of fact: this is trained, highly skilled labor.

Nathanael May 21, 2014 - 4:24 pm

It isn’t exactly comparable to other trained, highly skilled positions, because they get *free training on the job*.

Trained, highly skilled workers in other sectors have $100,000 debts to pay off, just to have that training and those skills.

Now, do I think everyone should get free on-the-job training? Yes, I should, and I think the “we expect everyone to be pre-trained” thing is awful and disgusting.

But my point is that someone with NO training can apply for an LIRR conductor job, and get it. Think about what starting salary is appropriate.

Spendmor Wastemor May 21, 2014 - 10:21 pm

K, so raise everything a bit to account for Long Island cost inflation.
A bit.
$150K is still too much for a conductor.


My point is not to denigrate transit employees, but to respect those who pay the bills. If some of those paying are doing so from middle-tier or larger paychecks it does not make a 50 or 100% labor cost inflation into a fair or honest practice.

Alon Levy May 21, 2014 - 4:09 am

The average LIRR rider makes ore than $100,000, as I recall.

Alon Levy May 21, 2014 - 4:10 am


Douglas John Bowen May 21, 2014 - 2:46 pm

An actual strike appears to be unlikely until after summer holiday season.


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