Nearly 100 members from Transport Workers Union Local 100’s Progressive Action and Transport Workers United factions teamed up to stage a protest before the Sept. 25 Metropolitan Transportation Authority board meeting to blast the agency for blaming employee overtime costs for its fiscal crisis.
The TWU and the MTA are in the early stages of contract talks to replace a pact that expired May 15.
Assaults Also Rile Them
In addition to addressing the typical contract issues on wages and benefits, rally attendees decried the increasing number of assaults on workers throughout the system.
Earlier this year, it was reported that agency overtime costs had spiked by $418 million in just one year. Management briefly assigned MTA police to timeclocks. MTA board member Larry Schwartz, a former top aide to Governor Cuomo, suggested employee fraud was involved, telling WCBS-TV “people need to either go to jail, they need to be prosecuted, and we need to collect the money that they stole from the taxpaying public.”
A few months later, MTA Chairman Patrick Foye linked the growth in overtime costs to past contracts that reduced employee availability to the point where workers averaged between 198 and 208 days, or roughly 40 weeks a year of availability.
According to the union, the agency’s initial contract offer required that if average worker availability did not increase by three days annually, management would be permitted to unilaterally make changes to the contract to achieve cost savings.
“We are trying our best to let membership know who is exactly responsible for this monetary shortfall, if there is one,” said Joe Campbell, of Transport Workers United. “We find it just absolutely inexcusable that the company would suggest its workers were involved in criminality in public as a way to cover up for its own budget irresponsibility, including its debt. What is it now? One in five of our revenue dollars has to go to debt service. That is incredible.”
Tramell Thompson, the leader of Progressive Action, said that rallying outside the MTA’s lower-Manhattan headquarters before its board meeting was a way of building solidarity between the system’s riders and workers.
“This is a way to connect with the public,” he said “Right now…the only narrative we have with the public is that we are getting assaulted and that there are [service] delays. There is nothing to say ‘hey, the MTA is the bad guy.’ ”
Union Leader Running Ads
Earlier last month, Local 100 President Tony Utano took to the airwaves with an energetic drive-time radio spot that aimed to engage the riding public.
“Only the MTA can spend $2 billion on consultants in just five years and then blame front-line employees for budget gaps,” he said in the ad. “New Yorkers, you think you hate the MTA? Try working for it.”
During the board meeting’s public-comment period, several union members took turns at the podium blasting the MTA board but singling out Andy Byford, President of New York City Transit, for praise as a “Godsend.”
“Mr. Foye, you make almost $400,000 a year and I would never say that you make too much money,” said Local 100 member Cannella Gomez. “How can you tell us employees that make less than $80,000 a year to take a two-percent raise in New York City?”
‘You’re Why We’re Assaulted’
He continued, “As far as assaults go, you guys are the main reason we get assaulted. As sure as the sun will rise, when it’s contract time, it’s like The Post works for the MTA board. You guys fill the paper with we are lazy, that we take so many days off. I haven’t had a Christmas off in years. I have not a Thanksgiving off in years…..It’s embarrassing.
“The only good thing in this room with you MTA board guys is President Byford,” said Mr. Gomez to loud applause.
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