MONEY TRAIN HASN’T STOPPED HERE LATELY: Frustrated PATH workers picketed outside a Jersey City rail station recently over having to work without a pay raise since 2011, even as they played an instrumental role in system improvements including reconstruction after SuperStorm Sandy, the introduction of a new signal system and rail cars, and implementation of the Positive Train Control anti-crash system. They said Port Authority wage offers have been inadequate.

Several hundred members of the unions that run the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) commuter railroad connecting New York and New Jersey recently took their case for a new contract directly to commuters with a picket at the Grove Street Station in Jersey City.

The PATH Labor Council, which includes 8 of the 10 unions that represent 1,200 workers, is subject to the provisions of the National Railway Labor Act and its contracts don’t lapse, instead remaining in effect until a new pact is reached.

Nine Years Without Raise

The contracts expired in 2011 and 2012. “We have not made any progress with PATH, our members have now endured nine years without a raise in salary,” said Joseph Dominiczak, president of the Railway Independent Transit Union and the PATH Labor Council. “Several of the unions in the PATH Labor Council have requested a release from mediation, which would set the stage for Presidential Emergency Boards, after which either party could resort to self-help.”

Should the Federal Mediation Board opt to refer the impasse to President Trump, he is empowered to appoint an Emergency Board to weigh the arguments from both the union and management. If the sides can’t come together after a three-month cooling off-period, a strike or lock-out could ensue.

The last walkout occurred in the summer of 1981, when workers went on strike for 12 weeks.

The two unions that opted not to join the PATH Labor Council are the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which covers clerks and public-information agents, and the UTU-SMART, which represents the system’s conductors. Those two unions have ratified contract agreements and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers has signed a tentative deal that awaits a rank-and-file vote.

PA Cites Progress

“Eighteen months ago, every one of the Port Authority’s more-than 5,000 unionized employees was working under an expired labor contract,” Port Authority officials told after the rally. “Today, more than 90 percent of the agency’s unionized workers are covered by brand new collective-bargaining agreements….We are making steady progress at the bargaining table to settle the remaining open contracts, and that is where we will continue to focus our efforts.”

Last June 27, the PATH Labor Council used the public-comment session of the bistate agency’s monthly meeting to highlight the lack of progress at the bargaining table even as workers achieved several major milestones for the agency. They cited post-Hurricane Sandy reconstruction, the introduction of a new fleet of rail cars and a new signal system, as well as being the first railroad in the nation to fully implement the Federally mandated Positive Train Control anti-crash system.

Daniel Lacey of the American Railway and Airline Supervisors Association said that the agency’s last offer of 1.25-percent pay increases for the years 2013 and 2014 covered a period of time when the union workforce “slept in the locker room on benches for weeks at a time to ensure that PATH was the first to restore service after SuperStorm Sandy. Many of these employees were dealing with family emergencies and the devastation of their own homes, yet sacrificed and put our passengers and the railroad first.”

The stagnation of wages for their members coincided, the union delegates said, with the railroads’ non-unionized workforce being granted significant raises.

Cancer-Cluster Concerns

Mr. Lacey said the PATH Labor Council agenda was also concerned about the erosion of pension and health-care benefits “even though there exists a cancer cluster, much of which is 9/11-related and is rapidly growing.”

At a press conference after that meeting, Rick Cotton, the Port Authority’s Executive Director, told reporters that resolving outstanding labor contracts was a top priority. He said the agency had settled with most of its 23 unions.

In a subsequent encounter at City Hall, Mr. Cotton said he remained confident his agency could foster “the team spirit” to amicably resolve the outstanding contracts.

Over the last few years, organized labor has been targeting the Port Authority, which is run by a board of commissioners appointed by Governor Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

Airport Workers’ Gains

In 2018, after an aggressive campaign by the Service Employees International Union, the PA committed to substantial raises for thousands of airport workers, culminating in a $19-an-hour wage by 2023.

Unite Here, a national union which represents 270,000 members in the hotel, gaming, and food service industries has been regularly attending Port Authority meetings to raise the profile of the thousands of low-wage airline catering workers it represents.

On Feb. 14 Unite Here has scheduled a series of protests that will include “planned arrests in surrounding streets and seven airports across the country,” including here in New York City.

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