PATH train

A campaign to jump start stalled contract talks by the PATH Labor Council, which represents workers that run the Port Authority Trans-Hudson mass-transit line, has gained traction with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and members of that state's Congressional delegation, but has yet to produce results in New York.

The group consists of eight unions that represent the 1,000 workers who run the bi-state transit line serving Manhattan, Hoboken, Jersey City and Newark. The unions have been working under contracts that expired in 2011 and 2012. Because they are covered under the National Railway Labor Act, the terms of those pacts remain in effect until new ones are reached.

Calls It Unacceptable

On Sept. 3, at a virtual town hall meeting convened by Governor Murphy, he was asked by a man named Tom if he would intervene on behalf of the PATH rail workers who "have not had a raise since 2011."

Mr. Murphy called the situation "unacceptable" and committed to personally address the issue with the Port Authority's leadership.

"I am not happy about this," he said. "We are a proud union state...I know it's out there. It's lingered far too long.... This is unacceptable. Period. Tom, god-willing, we will move the needle."

"I want to thank Governor Murphy wholeheartedly for standing up for the 1,000 workers of the PATH Labor Coalition and their families and making it clear that the Port Authority's refusal to negotiate in good faith cannot be allowed to continue," said Joseph Dominiczak, president of the PATH Labor Coalition. "We hope the Governor's involvement will be a wake-up call to Port Authority management. They have repeatedly refused to negotiate in good faith with our members and been totally unwilling to offer a fair compensation package that allows these working men and women to earn a living wage, and that must change now."

'Talk Good, Now Act'

Art Blakey III, the general chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, said that for his members, the stress from the coronavirus, which has killed a PATH union member, was compounded by the lack of a raise for nearly a decade.

"My members felt good seeing Governor Murphy speak to our situation, but they want to see some action," Mr. Blakey said. "We have heard things said by both politicians and the Board of Commissioners in the past and it has all come to nothing."

The death in April of union activist Robert Elijah, 61, a PATH Power Rail Mechanic, hit his colleagues hard. He was a member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 864 with 19 years on the job.

The PATH Council had hoped to get his family the same $500,000 death benefit the Metropolitan Transportation Authority negotiated late last year with the Transport Workers Union Local 100. 

TWU PATH Members Covered

According to John Samuelsen, the president of TWU of America, all of the Port Authority employees in his union are covered by that same $500,000 death benefit in titles that work in airport operations, maintenance and emergency response.

Mr. Blakey said that the possibility of getting infected with the deadly disease had caused him to refuse overtime for months.

"I usually work overtime on a Saturday night, but during this pandemic I asked myself 'why am I out here, potentially exposing my family to this?'" he said. "That lasted for three months and then there was the economic reality that without a raise for a decade, I needed that overtime."

The Port Authority press office did not provide a response.

In July, the PATH Labor Council wrote the New Jersey and New York congressional delegations of using the PA's application for $3 billion in Federal pandemic aid to raise the profile of their stalled talks, with Mr. Doniniczak stating, "At the same time the Port Authority is asking federal lawmakers for billions of dollars, it is still refusing to negotiate in good faith with one thousand workers who operate the PATH train system." He called the contrast "an insult to working families throughout the region."

Congressional Push

Last month, six members of the New Jersey delegation in their written response to PA's aid request pressed it to resolve "long standing and unresolved disputes between the PATH labor coalition and the Authority."

"It is our hope, as we continue to advocate for emergency funds for the Port Authority, the PANYNJ will work with the PATH labor coalition to address these long-standing issues," the six New Jersey House Members wrote. They called the workers critical to the ability of the regional economy to rebound, saying the contract stalemate "only hinders further response during this crisis."

The letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Bonnie Coleman Watson, Albio Sires, Frank Pallone Jr., Bill Pascrell Jr., Andy Kim, and Tom Malinowski.

The COVID outbreak and the economic shutdown required to contain the deadly virus have devastated the PA financially. A few months ago, PATH ridership was down 95 percent while the agency's toll-generating bridge and tunnel traffic was reduced by 50 percent. Its airports saw a 95-percent drop off in passengers.

Mr. Dominiczak said during a phone interview that the unions had yet to get a response from New York Members of Congress.

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