As TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen sees it, he delivered, and then some, on his pledge to get his rank and file a contract deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that has wage hikes that are above the rate of inflation without having to make any concessions.
“In addition to the wage increases, there are other substantial economic sweeteners in the contract,” Mr. Samuelsen said in a phone interview.
The pay hikes slightly exceed the 2-percent annual limit previously insisted upon by Governor Cuomo for unions under his jurisdiction, even after the slightly-extended duration of the pact reduces the average annual value of the raises to 2.14 percent.
Over the 28-month term of the deal, workers would get a 2.5-percent wage increase retroactive to Jan. 16, a second 2.5 percent on Feb. 16, 2018, and a $500 pensionable cash bonus in March 2019. Inflation has been tracking about 1.6 percent, and the MTA in its financial plan had budgeted a two-percent wage increase.
Wary Eye on Washington
“As of Feb. 16, 2018, we are on a compounded 5-percent wage increase going out forever. That is undeniable,” the Local 100 president said. He added that he believed the deal was delivered just in time because, if ratified, it “insulates” his members from what he saw as the vagaries of an incoming Trump Administration.
He explained, “If Trump was to come in and cut transit and that had a negative impact on New York State’s ability to fund the MTA, or fund capital projects of the MTA, of course it would have had an extremely bad effect on our ability to bargain if this contract had not been settled.”
The pending deal includes a ‘me-too’ clause entitling the union to match better terms the MTA’s Long Island Rail Road unions might obtain. “Long Island Railroad has a legal right to strike and if the Long Island Railroad exercises that legal right to strike and they come in with wages ahead of Local 100, we win those wage gains,” Mr. Samuelsen noted. In addition, all Local 100 workers will be able to take the Long Island Railroad or the Metro-North Railroad for free. “Previously this option was limited to Long Island and north of the Bronx, and that can mean an additional $2,200 saving.”
Members’ Mixed Reaction
A survey of several Local 100 members who were on the job last week, and did not want their names used, ranged from an upbeat “I can work with it” to a disapproving “I would have rather had a third 2.5 percent in the third step rather than the $500 in the payout” critique.
Some of the members want a closer look at the underlying documents which include the 434-page main contract. The union and management signed off on close to 40 additional “departmental agreements.” Systemwide longevity pay would be increased by $250 at all experience levels from 15 to 30 years, and night differential would improve by the same percentages as salary.
In addition to unionwide increases, specific titles are in line for additional bumps in pay. The drivers of the articulated buses, generically known as the accordion buses, will see their 25-cent hourly premium jump to a dollar. “They have a very difficult job navigating the streets of the city with those buses, and it is stressful,” said Mr. Samuelsen. “It affects somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 or so bus operators immediately and over the next five years will affect thousands.”
Cleaners’ Snow Pay
He said he also aimed to deal with longterm structural inequities that have survived several contract cycles. “For the first time in 25 or 30 years we have won significant gains” for Station Cleaners, who will now enjoy the same time-and-a-half pay rate for snow removal to which Track Workers have historically been entitled. “That is potentially worth a couple of thousands of dollars a year to 1,700 station cleaners,” the Local 100 leader said.
Union officials were also enthusiastic about a provision that would greatly liberalize how much retiring workers can draw down from their unused sick time. “With 30 years on the job you would have been given 360 sick days over that period. So you would need 181 under the current system in order to get a bonus,” Mr. Samuelsen explained. “So if you had 175 days at 30 years, you would not get any bonus at all—zilch. Now a transit worker who had 30 years and only had 40 percent of their sick time balance is going to be able to cash out for a $19,700 payout if they retire after this contract gets ratified.”
On the workplace-reform front he touted provisions of the deal calling for the MTA to hire 100 additional in-house capital construction workers to upgrade the system’s woefully inadequate accommodations for its rapidly growing female workforce. “Most importantly, we have an agreement to build out facilities, locker rooms, changing rooms, comfort rooms and rooms for the expression of breast milk,” he said. “A hundred years ago this system was not designed with even a remote idea that there would one day be 5,000 transit workers. The system needs to be rebuilt.”
That change resonated with a female Local 100 conductor on the Number 6 line. “We’re not thrilled with the money and I have to see the whole package,” she said. “But I am glad they are doing something about the accommodations down here for us. I had to stop breast-feeding to come back to work.”
In addition to addressing the issue of the lack of female-friendly facilities in the workplace, the union and management signed off on bringing gender equity to the health care plan by expanding coverage for post-mastectomy reconstruction and cosmetic surgery as well as other gynecological care and prescriptions. Under the new contract the adult children of Local 100 members would continue to enjoy their parent’s dental coverage up until they were 26.
The deal was hailed by Vincent Alvarez, president of the AFL-CIO New York City Central Labor Council, for “raises that exceed the rate of inflation and adequately address the financial needs of the members.”
The Citizens Budget Commission, a civic watchdog funded by business, was critical of the deal. “New Yorkers should welcome the news of 28 months of labor peace on the subways and buses, but it comes at a price,” the CBC wrote. “The settlement is more generous than the MTA’s financial plan provides and may require higher fare increases than planned or more borrowing to support the capital program. It also means another 28 months are lost before productivity gains from work rule and benefit changes can be achieved.”
Mr. Samuelsen rejected the CBC critique. “So it is nice to sit in your ivory tower and pontificate about how a fair and reasonable contract for transit workers is somehow burdensome,” he said. “They should really try and go down in the subway and try swinging a hammer for six hours in the sweltering heat or the ice cold before they start making judgments on what we do and what we deserve.”
Union officials expect to get the contract out to members shortly; the ratification vote will take 14 days once the ballots are mailed out.