Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Transit Workers' Strike Hammers NYC

Oh, yes. The Apocolypse has come. The Horseman flank each side of the Big Apple. New York City bleeds while hapless New Yorkers and Commuters struggle to get around.

Yahoo! has the story of the Transit Workers' Strike
Commuters trudged through the freezing cold, rode bicycles and shared cabs Tuesday as New York's bus and subway workers went on strike for the first time in more than 25 years and stranded millions of riders at the height of the Christmas rush. A judge slapped the union with a $1 million-a-day fine.

State Justice Theodore Jones leveled the sanction against the Transport Workers Union for violating a state law that bars public employees from going on strike. The city and state had asked Jones to hit the union with a "very potent fine."

"This is a very, very sad day in the history of labor relations for New York City," the judge said in imposing the fine.

The union said it would immediately appeal, calling the penalty excessive.

The strike over wages and pensions came just five days before Christmas, at a time when the city is especially busy with shoppers and tourists.

The heavy penalty could force the union off the picket lines and back on the job. Under the law, the union's 33,000 members will also lose two days' pay for every day they are on strike, and they could also be thrown in jail.

The courtroom drama came midway through a day in which the walkout fell far short of the all-out chaos that many had feared. With special traffic rules in place, the morning rush came and went without monumental gridlock. Manhattan streets were unusually quiet; some commuters just stayed home.

The nation's biggest mass-transit system ground to a halt after 3 a.m., when the TWU called the strike after a late round of negotiations with the
Metropolitan Transportation Authority broke down. The subways and buses provide more than 7 million rides per day.

New Yorkers car-pooled, shared taxis, rode bicycles, roller-skated or walked in the freezing cold. Early morning temperatures were in the 20s. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said the strike would cost the city as much as $400 million a day, joined the throngs of people crossing the Brooklyn Bridge by foot.

"Hey, can I get a ride?" Jay Plastino asked a neighbor near his home in the northern tip of Manhattan. Plastino, who was headed to his midtown job, was angry at the union: "This is a big city. Don't they realize that?"

Gov. George Pataki said the union acted illegally and "will suffer the consequences." But union attorney Arthur Schwartz accused the MTA of provoking the strike.

No negotiations were scheduled between the two sides, although a mediator from a state labor board was meeting with both union and MTA officials Tuesday afternoon.
Pajama Media is all over this story:
The leading union in the New York transit strike was fined a massive $1 million per day for its illegal action as New Yorkers begged for taxi rides and people gave rides to strangers, Reuters reported. Ed Driscoll has tonight's icily inconvenient weather report, Instapundit cheers for burbs and sprawl, SoCalPundit.com goes hard on union greed and China's laughing...
You can imagine the commentary from that side of the board. On the other hand, Steve Gilliard of The News Blog offers a different perspective:
The TWU called a strike at 3:00 AM

While you're at home or trying to get to work a week before Chistmas, remember that the City and State allowed the MTA to spend their surplus with no consideration for workers needs, or the needs for the city.

The media has done little better, constantly harping on the Taylor Law and the responsibilities of the TWU and forgetting the rank and utter dishonesty of the MTA.

In any dispute there are two sides, but keep in mind that the TWU has stood with workers for basic protections in the system, like booth clerks and conductors in the face of the MTA's constant opposition.

There is no reason for this strike, but the MTA was not interested in meeting the union or the needs of New Yorkers even half way.


Anyone who thinks these people make too much ought to consider why much of New York is thriving and not a ghetto wasteland. Those salaries build homes, pay taxes, buy cars. In short, while you tour Harlem and live in Billysburg ii is because people with stable jobs and good salaries buy homes and live there. The dollars paid by the MTA to the TWU's members go to the city, support the city, unlike the suburban based police and firefighters.

Yet, Bloomberg and Pataki disregarded that and the effect on business and backed the union into a corner. And they deserve the blame as much as the union or MTA for this. They tried to bully these people like Giuliani did, but that leadership lost their jobs because they buckled.

For all the halfwits calling for these people to be fired, do they know how to lay track or fix a subway car? No...
Well, one of Steve's commentators offers this analysis:
MTA workers earn between $47,000 and $63,000 per year; they pay nothing for their own healthcare, and can retire at 55 for 1/2 of their pay for the rest of their life... It is high time that these workers fall in line with what corporate America (and New York) face everyday - REALITY.

In the terms of their strike, they asked for an 8% year-on-year raise for next 3 years, to retire at 50 years old, and to prevent (only new members) from paying a paltry 2% of their gross income for their own healthcare.

Let's look at some hard numbers here... The average New Yorker, outside of Wall Street financial companies, earns $49,000 per year. The average American pays 8% of their gross salary on health care costs, and a 3% cost of living raise in a year in considered generous my most standards.

We're talking about workers that don't need a college education, are not particularly skilled, and would basically just assume spit on you as help (think about a transit booth worker) a rider.

I hope that the Taylor laws punish the TWU harshly, that they can stuff their whining about “dignity”, etc. This is about one thing – MONEY. Their 8% year-on-year raise means that those over-paid $60/year conductors will be making $75k per year. The City can not support that.
So again, the usual suspects utter the usual idealogical innanities past each other. Conservatives will sneer at the TWU members that walked off the job. They'll bemoan their gross overcompensation for their lack of qualification, making sure to genuflect to the Great God of Efficient Markets as they wax nostolgic for Smithian realism. Meanwhile, their Liberal counterparts will immediately play the race card, canonize the Taylor Law violators that have cost NYC $400 million, completely villifying the MTA/City/State for "union-busting."

Meanwhile, the everyday New Yorker suffers. Like the students of NYC's public High schools. Like my kids. I taught a grand total of nine students in at least four classes today. Yes, that's nine--out of a roster of 34 students per class! Guess why they weren't there? Yup! NYC high school students take mass transit. And guess what? Because of the absenses, my school may lose $1.8 million in Federal Title I money. That's income that pays for after-school and week-end tutoring, among other things. The TWU and the MTA just contributed to the decline of NYC's future. What a surprise!

Neither side has the market of justification cornered here. The TWU workers are well-paid, established middle-class wage-earners. They're average salary--without a college education--is $55,000 a year. They're making hand-over-fist more than their private sector counterparts could command. Having said that, they live in one of the most expensive cities in the nation. They contribute to the economy of the city. Their last contract gave them no raises for two years, even a cost-of-living increase. Now, they're offered a deal that gives them little more than 1% over inflation, and in exchange, they have to sell-out their young workers by two-tiering their pension system.

On the other side of this ugly equation, the MTA currently sits on a budget surplus of $1 billion. This is after they sweet-hearted MTA-owned land to land developers for a song. This is after they cried poverty in 2002, when the one increase they owed their workers came due after two years of no increases. This is after they've raised fares without justification and demonstrate their finances to no one. MTA management has no credibility on the financial issues as far as I'm concerned.

Regarding the pension issue: my brother teachers sold my generation out long ago. The TWU doesn't want to repeat the UFT's mistakes. And, by the way, when NYC and the UFT have agreed to lobby Albany to reduce the retirement age from 62 (for Tier III and IV teachers) to 55, why does the MTA suddenly decide new hires must retire at 62? They face an $8 million shortfall in 2008 just as they're about to negotiate a new contract? When they're sitting on a $1 billion surplus? Maybe I'm a little too superstitious, but I find these coincidential circumstances are just a little too convenient.

I've learned not to trust authorities that hold themselves accountable to no one. While I decry what the strike has done to the city--and the students--I can't help but think that the MTA instigated this whole, sad business by holding entirely unserious negotiations. The Mayor and Governor's tough-talk approach may push their poll numbers up. It won't get the TWU back on the job.

Neither will forgetting Catholic Social Teaching. Workers deserve a wage that honors their human dignity and provides support for their family. Any salary that can't keep up with inflation will cease to have value, no matter how many digits. Perhaps the MTA can remember that before they experience their next financial crisis. Maybe New Yorkers could, too.