Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Light at the End of the Tunnel?

EDIT: There are links at the bottom to other J-bloggers on the strike. They're great, check them out.

Living in New York City is normally bad enough. When 33,000 MTA workers decide to strike, it gets a lot worse. A friend of mine took a car to the LIRR yesterday, but the lines were hundreds, if not thousands, of people long. Luckily, one smart man looked at the lines and quickly asked if anyone wanted to fill his car to the required four per car so he could drive into the city, and my friend jumped at the opportunity.

Very quickly, here are the primary issues: The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has about $1 billion dollars in excess. The contract they had with the union expired at 12:01 AM Friday morning. They are demanding a new contract, which would include: Annual raises for 3 years of 8%; the retirement age remaining at 55 years old; and full health and pension benefits. Their current salaries range from $47,000-$55,000 a year.

Each day of a strike costs the city an estimated $400 million. It is completely illegal for the workers to strike by New York law. The Transport Union Workers are being fined to the tune of $1 million a day for their strike, and its workers are losing pay at double their daily rate. There are approximately 4.5 million subway riders and 2.4 million bus riders every day.

The latest MTA offer has pay raises of 3%, 4%, and 3.5% the next 3 years and still demands that the pension age eligibility of new workers from now on be 62 and not 55. The union refuses to accept this.

Thankfully, just about every single person in New York realizes that the union is out of its freaking mind. 8% pay raises?! Are you kidding me?! Where, in any business, does a person get guaranteed 8% pay raises every year? It is not as if these are particularly high-skill positions that require graduate-level study - we are talking about bus drivers, conductors, and subway cleaners. These are all very important jobs, but they should not be jumping from $50,000 to almost $65,000 a year in just 3 years, in addition to the great benefits they receive. There is also no reason that they should be able to retire with full pensions at 55 when most Americans have to work until 65 for far lower benefits. I think 62 is generous enough.

Thankfully, most New Yorkers aren't falling for this garbage:

Commuter frustration was evident both before the strike and after it was called.

"The rest of us are having to pay our health insurance and our pensions are going away, too, so I think we've all got to be in this together. No, I don't have any sympathy," one woman walking over the Brooklyn Bridge told FOX News.

Darryl Padilla, a 20-year-old club promoter, was trying to get on the train at Penn Station when he found out the strike had begun. He didn't have enough cash to take a cab to his home on the northern tip of Manhattan.

"I didn't think they were going to shut down. I can't take a cab," he said.

"I think they all should get fired," said Eddie Goncalves, a doorman trying to get home after his overnight shift. He said he expected to spend an extra $30 per day in cab and train fares.

"Enough is enough," said Craig DeRosa, who relies on the subway to get to work. "Their benefits are as rich as you see anywhere in this country and they are still complaining. I don't get it."

In Queens, Brunilda Ayala said she had no sympathy for the union after the bus strike began in her neighborhood.

"How can you give a raise to a bus driver who would make three old ladies walk home in the cold?" asked Ayala, 57.

I do think they should get fired - I would love to see most of them realize their mistake, quit the union, and then come back and work for the MTA. If the MTA is really nice, they can give them almost as much as they were getting before.

You want to know what the MTA can do with their $1 billion surplus?! How about lower bus and subway costs. Or maybe lower the tolls on the bridges. Right now, the MTA plans on raising prices yet again - from $2 to $2.50 a ride. That's a 25% increase!! Outrageous! There are about 2.14 billion riders a year, which comes out to about $4 billion of revenue a year [taking into account discounts]. How about lowering prices by 25 cents a ride?! The MTA would still have $500 million in surplus, and commuters would be a lot happier. It would also boost the economy of NYC in general, much as it does when they lower it to $1/ride for weekends now so people shop more.
Huge lines formed at ticket booths for the commuter railroads that stayed in operation, and Manhattan-bound traffic backed up at many bridges and tunnels as police turned away cars with fewer than four people. Meanwhile, transit workers took to the picket lines with signs that read "We Move NY. Respect Us!"
It's kind of hard to respect people that just screwed 7 million people for their own selfish and unfair demands. If they wanted respect, they'd have accepted a deal long ago and asked that the MTA take its surplus and give it back to the commuters. Seeing as they didn't, all I can say is...

What a bunch of selfish jerks.

EDIT: Also blogging on the strike: Orthomom, CWY - twice, Kesher Talk, Sushi Kiddush (pictures!), YUtopia, My Urban Kvetch, JBlogMeister. EDIT II: And LabRab. EDIT III: Forgot Cross-Currents. EDIT IV: Irina at IgNoble Experiment - I especially liked this line:
Would you believe it, NYC survived 9/11, picked herself up and moved on, only to be brought down by its own citizens???
EDIT V: DovBear.

tags: , , , .


  1. Nice wrap-up of the strike, Ezzie. I felt very fortunate today that I take NJ transit and wasn't affected. But many of my friends (one of which had to walk over four miles after taking NJ transit into the city), and about half of my co-workers were left in the lurch. My office spent the majority of the day strategizing to get employees to work. It's ridiculous that these workers, whose jobs aren't terribly skilled, are striking when many worked hard to get graduate levels degrees in order to make smaller salaries than them. Hopefully it will end soon!

  2. That 1 billion dollar surplus is a one shot deal, the MTA is projecting deficts of 800 million within a few years.

    Pataki and the MTA should do exactly what Reagan did when the air traffic controlers illegaly struck back in the early '80s- he fired everyone of them.

  3. I'm a person in New York who walked five miles into Manhattan and then back. I completely support the TWU strikers. This was Pataki's strike from the beginning. The MTA didn't even start bargaining until 3 weeks ago. The board of directors of the MTA are all white multi-millionaires who never ride the trains and don't even know what the work is about. They are trying to create a two class system in the union to splt the union between old hires and new hires. Over the years the TWU has helped all workers in New York make a decent living. The police union has been gutted, the firefighters union. There are six unions in the city working withoug contracts for year because they can't strike because of the slave labor Taylor law.... If the TWU looses this is going to be city that is a lot more brutal for everybody except for the rich and you should know that. Who is Bloomberg to talk? He could pay the whole budget deficit of the MTA and NYC and still have a couple billion left. And he thinks the TWU shouldn't strike for their families, for our families. The TWU workers built this City and helped other unions to get good living for their workers.

  4. The real people being hurt are the low income, cash strapped people in 'hard enough as it is' neighborhoods. The only people being punished here are the citizens of NY. Not the big fat cats over at MTA HQ. This is the reason Unions suck.

    How they can be allowed to cripple a an entire city, at possibly the worst time is beyond me. I don't think they should just get fired, I think they should be arrested and fined as well.

    On another note, if I see one more TV Station TRANSIT STRIKE 2005! MINUTE BY MINUTE COVERAGE banner/logo I'm gonna throw something at my TV. Such drama queens. Does everything need a logo and a tagline??

  5. CWY - I'm not so sure... an accountant who long ago used to go over the MTA's books and (though he now has his own firm) looked at their numbers mentioned months ago that their surplus is there and rises annually.

    Either way, they should all get fired. Agreed.

    MonacoJerry - Welcome! I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with all that. I don't think that the BoD 'doesn't know what the work is about', and I fail to see how it matters at all. It's very nice that the TWU has done a lot in the past, but their demands here are absolutely off the wall. Many people think unions are wonderful, because they get their people better wages and benefits - that's wonderful for them, but not for anybody else. That money has to come from somewhere - and it's all of our pockets. If the MTA agreed to their terms, what would happen? They'd project a deficit, and raise fares. Then the union would say, "Hey, they've raised fares, they're making more $$! Let's get our salaries raised!"

    Sorry, no dice. This one is on the union's head.

    Chaim - That's true, only the citizens are being punished. And they are being fined, and some of the heads technically could get arrested from what I've read. Now THAT would be interesting.

    And LOL - yet another reason NOT to have a TV :)

  6. Let's say that they have surplus for the next couple of years. Then lower the fares or use the money to improve service. The MTA isn't a for-profit corporation, they have no right to a penny more than what's needed to run their systems.

  7. Some more facts people who support the strikers seem to forget about:
    *They also want to lower the retirement age for future workers to 50 (!)
    *Their starting salary is twice that of the police officers and firefighters!

    Ugh, I agree, as I wrote, this is completely outrageous and disgusting. For people without the cars, this is like a house arrest. Also, imagine the strain on the ambulances and other emergency vehicles to make their way through all the traffic.

  8. Ezzie,

    Thanks for an intelligent post that focuses on issues with only a bare minimum of invective.

    Before I begin I will freely confess that I have zero background in economics and thus no idea of what I'm talking about. Which also means that you probably won't be able to convince me that you're right either, because I can't be sure that you know what you're talking about.

    That said, I wish to submit the following points:

    1) Spending all day working underground, seeing with artificial light and breathing musky air, is difficult. Same goes with battling New York City traffic all day and every day. Just like construction work, it is stressful, unhealthy, and probably lifespan-reducing. There is a reason that blue-collar unions have argued for lower retirement ages. It is because the workers' bodies can't keep up with the strain anymore.

    When the subways and buses start up again, take a good look at your conductors and drivers. They tend to be overweight and sallow-faced. More than the average person of their income range? I can't say.

    I do agree with the argument that if retiremtent age is going up in general, it should go up for transit workers too. The retirement age should always be, say, (national retirement age) - (7 or 8). But it should definitely not rise so steeply as seven years.

    2) 8% guaranteed salary increase over three straight years is too much, and the MTA counteroffer was reasonable. No argument here.

    3) You believe that for the sake of economic development, surplus money should go back to the consumer, and not to the worker. But economic development also is spurred by lower middle class people earning more money and investing the money back into the economy. Why does the general consumer saving, say, $125/year (25 cents times 500 rides), improve the economy more than the average transit worker earning an extra $10,000 a year.

    4) As for Shoshana's point: A strike is justified when management is taking advantage of workers. In this case, considering the MTA's recent budget surplus, the workers felt that was the case. It should have nothing to do with how skilled the labor is. If you didn't maximize the earning potential of your education (and, by the way, as a rabbi/teacher, I don't expect to either), that's your own sour grapes. Don't take it out on the workers of the MTA. [Shoshana, I don't mean this as a personal attack. I just strongly disagree with your opinion.]

    So, yes, hopefully the strike will end soon - when the MTA decides to negotiate a fair and appropriate deal.

  9. Irina - I didn't hear the point about the 50, but good point about the salaries.

    LabRab - I actually do understand a bit of economics, but since you claim not to, you'll never know... :)

    1) I'm not saying there aren't drawbacks to their jobs, or that they're not worse on their bodies. I don't mind a lower retirement age than the rest of the population, either - but 55 is really really low. 62 is still lower than 65, and as many things are switching to 70, I think that would qualify for your 7-8 year differential.

    2) Good!

    3) I don't necessarily think the consumer - if it would be used for capital improvements, that's fine too. I do think that that does more for the economy than paying the workers $10K/year - most of the people riding the subways are lower or middle class. That 150 dollars (figure 300 days/twice daily) could make a nice difference.

    4) I fail to see how management was taking advantage of the workers. They have nice salaries and benefits, and the surplus is not because they're being underpaid, but rather because consumers are being overcharged. And how skilled the labor is should make a difference in pay scale, much as it does in any private sector job. They can ask for good salaries, but they can't be unreasonable when they are easily replaced.

  10. IMO, the TWU deserves neither sympathy nor a raise. 25/55 with no contribution towards medical/pension benefits is one reason why the US economy is tanking. I am sure that there are 33,000 people who would love to drive buses, operate trains and even maintain them and tracks.

    More seriously-Ezzie, I am a KGH resident. I have tried the LIRR and I got into my office in midtown at the Empire State buildig today later than yesterday. Email me off your blog if you have any ideas re a carpool, especially with an early Shabbos this and the upcoming weeks.

  11. FWIW, I think that the Taylor Law is a very important law. I support the rights of unionizewd labor to strike in the private sector. I think that one can reasonably argue that the public sector which provides basic public services such as police, fire, sanitation, and transit and even hospital workers have jobs with great benefits and a decent salary in which they serve a basic and irreplaceable public service. Strikes by this sector jeopardize the rest of society, as opposed to strikes in the private setor, which affect only one company. I think that the Taylor Law should be used more aggressively ala President Reagan's treatment of the air traffic controllers.

  12. Living in New York City is normally bad enough.


    Living in NYC is fantastic.

    And if the strikers win, it will be more fantatsic. Let them set the salary bar higher, it means more money for everyone, long term, and also more money for the merhcants. Remember trickle down?

    The strike itself appears to be illegal, but the union's greivances are real.

  13. Steve - I honestly have no idea what to tell you about carpooling, though I have one friend who works downtown. If you e-mail me I can give you his number, perhaps he knows others. Sorry - most of my friends are still in college... Oh - idea: Perhaps put up a sign in Chofetz Chaim? I'm sure there are people whose wives work in the city there.

    The Taylor Law, from what I've read, is a very smart law - and it should be used more aggressively. But CWY et al are the experts...

    DB - I'm not sure why you think living in NYC is fantastic. Usually, only those who've lived here all their lives feel that way - and as soon as they move out, they change their minds. (Unless they have that pompous NY attitude. :::shudder:::)

    Sorry, DB - that's not how economics work. Forced salaries are never wise - especially when it gets picked up by the lower & middle classes. The MTA will likely have to raise fares to make up the money - and cost of living rises yet again, and then the complaint starts again. Sorry, no dice.

  14. I love New York (I've lived in other places before), but this strike thing is definitely NOT the best thing about it.

  15. I don't know for sure, but I think you're single? It's wonderful to live in as a single person, because there's much more "to do". Once you're married, however, it's atrocious.

  16. I live with my parents... I guess there are many disadvantages of living in a large city, so I see your point. But I guess it also depends on your preferred "style". : )

  17. It's also a cost of living issue. Manhattan is 2.06 times the national average; Queens is 1.62. Those are crazy numbers.

    Quality of life is obvious - my father has a "long" commute of 8 minutes to his office every day in Cleveland. Here, 1 hour is "normal" - I don't think people realize just how crazy that is.

  18. LOL, I see what you mean. I live in Brooklyn and my commute is also about an hour. But I like trains because I get to catch up on my reading! : D

    Cost of living is pretty high, that's true... But I think with a good job it's manageable... (or is it?)

  19. I'll give you a comparison of cost of living - my brother-in-law and a friend did a quick analysis.

    According to their estimates, $50,000 in Baltimore, MD went much farther than $100,000 in New York City. In contrast, salaries in Baltimore were about 88% as high as their equivalents in NYC.

    COL in NYC is manageable, sure - if you're making well over 100K (for an average family). But unless you'd make less than half if you lived "out of town", you're likely better off moving.

    I think I'm going to post about this at some point. It's been in my head for... well, ever. :)

  20. That's true... Hopefully, we'll all be rich and famous one day, though! : )

  21. Great roundup. These guys are certainly shooting themselves in the foot (or is that feet?).
    Last time they had one they got nowhere. I feel horrible for all the merchants and NYC employees who are being victimized by this mafia. All I can say is..I'm happy I don't work in NYC.

  22. Thanks. I feel horrible for them as well, but I just realized something: I wonder if businesses could sue the union for losses incurred? It's clearly an illegal strike, and it's causing untold damage to businesses. It would be really interesting...

  23. Baruch Hashem, the strike is over. By the way, thanks for the link to Sushi Kiddush. Here is a shoutout to you.