Tuesday, December 20, 2005

NYC Transit on Strike: too bad they cannot all be fired

The Monk has only vague recollections of the last NYC transit strike, which Evan Coyne Maloney describes in his post linked above. That strike was in 1980 (2+ years before The Monk commuted by train to school) and in the Spring.

This transit strike is calculated to inflict the greatest damage possible on the City at what is usually the best time of year in New York -- Xmas holidays. The fault there lies in no small part with the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority that runs the trains and buses -- it negotiated the contract end date in mid-December instead of some other part of the year.

Nonetheless, the strike is illegal under New York's Taylor Law. That law states that no public employees are allowed to strike and imposes fines of 2-days' pay for each day that the worker is on strike. As Nicole Gelinas noted last week, the Taylor Law has previously failed as a deterrent. And compared to average New Yorkers, the transit workers are not starving. As Gelinas noted in an op-ed in the NY Times last week (archived now):
Subway operators and token clerks are blue-collar workers, but their paychecks match those of middle-class workers, even ones in New York City. According to the authority, the average subway or bus operator earns nearly $63,000 per year. The average subway conductor earns about $54,000. The average station agent earns about $51,000. A subway cleaner earns about $40,000.

Compare these numbers with salary figures in New York's private sector. According to the state comptroller, the average New York City worker earns about $60,000 a year. This number includes workers on Wall Street, whose six-figure salaries distort the picture. Take out well-paid finance-industry workers, and the average worker in New York earns just $49,000. What about workers without a college education? Most factory workers, health care employees and restaurant and retail workers in the city earn under $35,000.

More importantly, the transit workers contribute ABSOLUTELY NO MONEY to retirement or health care plans, yet they have full pensions starting at age 55 AND health care coverage that is worth thousands of dollars per year.

Did I mention that the MTA is deep in the red and relies upon subsidies to make ends meet? Although the head of the Transit Workers Union says that the MTA has a huge surplus (the first The Monk has heard of it -- sounds like funny math), he ignores that [1] much of that went to pay down pension liabilities; [2] the revenues that the MTA receives from train operations and NYC operations are only about 1/2 the cost of operations -- the MTA receives revenues from various other income streams (dedicated taxes, bridge and tunnel tolls) to offset those costs in a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul arrangement; [3] the alleged surplus can only be an operating surplus on the MTA's total operations, not the operations about which the TWU is striking; [4] the MTA's debt costs are increasing faster than its revenues.

Did I mention that the MTA had already caved from its proposal to raise the pension age from 55 to 62 for new workers and now only wants new workers to contribute all of 6% of their salaries for the first 10 years? Did I mention that the MTA wanted workers to pay all of 1% of their salaries as health care contributions? (See here for some contract issues).

Unlike the Air Traffic Controllers' strike of 1981, Mayor Bloomberg does not have a "nuclear" option available to him like President Reagan did. Pres. Reagan fired all the strikers, Bloomberg cannot (although his will to do so is questionable). Too bad. This bad faith by the Transit Workers Union deserves strong medicine.

UPDATE: CBS News in NYC reports that the International TWU may step in and take over negotiations from the Local branch that walked off the job.

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