July 2010, Week 4


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Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>
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Wed, 28 Jul 2010 20:28:14 -0400
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New York Musters to Fight as Layoffs Sweep Mass Transit
by Steve Downs  
Thu, 07/22/2010 - 9:08am

The recession has hammered transit agencies across the
country. Some 700 New York City transit workers--mostly
bus operators and station agents--have been laid off
since May and another 200-300 may be gone by the end of
the summer. The layoffs coincide with service changes
that eliminated two subway lines, closed booths in many
stations, and cut hundreds of bus runs in the city.
Riders have longer waits for more crowded trains, longer
walks to bus stops, and less security in the subway
As tax revenues that support mass transit have declined,
huge holes have opened up in operating budgets,
compounded by cuts made by state and city governments
grappling with their own deficits. Service has been cut
25 percent in Atlanta. A quarter of Detroit's bus
workers are laid off, and 1,100 workers were laid off in
Chicago. Higher fares and cuts in service are happening
across the country.
New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority says
the cuts are needed because of an $800 million deficit
for this year. But it's clear from the nature of the
MTA's demands that management seeks not just an
immediate fix to its money woes but to permanently
install concessions and shift the balance of power away
from union workers.
Since taking office in January, the new leaders of
Transport Workers Union Local 100 in New York have been
fighting this trend. TWU reached out to community groups
that want to preserve service and mobilized its members
to demonstrate against the cuts.
The local allied with youth organizations fighting to
preserve students' right to free transportation to and
from school, joining with students during the March 4
national day of action to put several thousand picketers
outside a hearing on the proposed cuts. After months of
pressure, the MTA agreed to continue the free rides for
students once the state raised the limit on how much the
MTA can borrow for capital projects. This guaranteed
transportation for 600,000 students, but sets the stage
for even more money being diverted from operating
expenses to debt service in the future.
Local 100 has picketed regularly outside MTA Chairman
Jay Walder's apartment, highlighting the $5,000-a-month
housing allowance he receives. Along with lobbying in
Albany to try to restore funding and limit management's
ability to cut jobs, the union has sued to stop or delay
the cuts. One suit has thus far forced the delay of 200
station-agent layoffs while public hearings are
The mobilization made two things clear. First, mass
transit's funding crisis can't be resolved in a single
city or by a single union local. Second, MTA management
is using the budget crisis to pursue long-term
anti-union goals it had failed to win at the bargaining
As Local 100's leaders learned more about the cuts that
were taking place in other cities, they took the lead in
launching a national coalition to defend and extend
urban mass transit. The coalition, Keep America Moving
(www.keepamericamoving.org), brought together unions,
environmental groups, and civil rights organizations
that recognized the importance of preserving decent
blue-collar jobs, the centrality of mass transit to any
commitment to reduce greenhouse gases, and the disparate
impact that cuts to mass transit have on communities of
The coalition's first focus was seeking federal
operating subsidies for urban mass transit as part of
the government's economic stimulus. (Last year's
stimulus package provided capital funds, but it also
allowed transit agencies to use 10 percent of those
funds for operating expenses. The MTA, and most other
transit agencies, have refused to do so.)
Following a rally of about 3,000 on Capitol Hill in late
April, the Public Transportation Preservation Act, which
would provide $2 billion in operating subsidies to
transit systems across the country, was introduced in
the Senate.
Meanwhile, the MTA told Local 100 the only way to avoid
layoffs was to open the contract, eliminate "archaic
work rules," and give back a pay increase that an
arbitrator had granted. John Samuelsen, the local's
president, rejected this. With the backing of New York's
newspapers, the MTA went on a rampage against transit
workers' wages and benefits. For example:
	*	Although conductors and bus operators have been
beaten and even killed while at work, workers who took
time off for emotional distress after being spat on were
mocked. Most workers who are spat on stay at work or
return the next day.
	*	The MTA requires bus operators to drive during
morning and evening rush hours with long, partially paid
off-duty periods in the middle of their day. Most spend
that time at their depots. Management set off a furor in
the press by "exposing" the fact that some shoot pool
while on their enforced down-time--even though management
itself demanded these split shifts in a previous
contract, to combine two jobs into one.
	*	Workers who use their full 12 days' sick time
in a year were accused of being lazy. Said President Tom
Prendergast of New York City Transit, "They wake up in
the morning and say, 'I don't feel like working today.'"
	*	Transit worker pensions, not Wall Street
financial manipulations and a 30-year bleeding of city
and state funding for transit, were blamed for the MTA's
budget crisis.

According to the New York Daily News, Walder wanted
workers to pay more for their health care and to take
five years to get to top pay, rather than three. They
would take a bonus next year instead of a raise. And
instead of being eligible for full pensions at age 55
after 25 years of service, new workers would need 30
years of service at age 57 (or 10 years at 66).
Samuelsen refused to open the contract to make permanent
concessions like these. Instead, he offered to find ways
to save the MTA $35 million a year for three years, such
as workers' rebating $20 per pay period to MTA for a set
time. This would cover the cost of maintaining bus and
subway service and keeping all the workers on the job,
while accepting the loss of 1,000 jobs through
attrition. In exchange, Samuelsen insisted on a firm
no-layoff pledge.
Walder rejected the union proposal out of hand. He wants
concessions, not cash. And he refuses to guarantee that
no one will be laid off--even if the union agrees to all
of his demands.
The MTA can be expected to use the threat of more
layoffs as leverage to extort concessions when contract
talks begin next year. To prepare, the union is
continuing the fight for federal operating subsidies,
strengthening its ties to community organizations,
positioning mass transit within the green economy that
the Obama administration is promoting, and rebuilding
its steward system to enforce the contract and safe work

Steve Downs is the chair of the train operators division
of TWU Local 100.

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