A CONTRACT BACKUP ON THE BRIDGE STRETCHING BACK EIGHT YEARS: Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Sgt. Thomas Matias (left) is among the 140 Sergeants and Lieutenants working under a contract that expired in 2012, meaning it was three years out of date when it was actually concluded in 2015. Their union contends that the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority has refused to negotiate in good faith, but its parent agency, noting that virtually all other Metropolitan Transportation Authority employees have received two additional rounds of raises,  the Superior Officers Benevolent Association has made unrealistic demands.   

The union that represents the 140 Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority Police Sergeants and Lieutenants claims that TBTA management is trying to break the small union by enticing members to take promotions to Captain, a management position, while it refuses to negotiate seriously to replace a contract that expired in 2012.

The TBTA, a subsidiary of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, oversees the operation of seven city bridges and two tunnels. The TBTA Superior Officers Benevolent Association members supervises oversee a force of about 400 Police Offficers who since 9/11 have increasingly focused on counter-terrorism in addition to its traditional traffic-control and first-responder duties.

Just 7 Captains Now

There are seven Captains presently, a uniformed position for which there is no civil-service exam.

"What they are doing is taking people who were Lieutenants and taking them out of my unit and promoting them," said Lieut. Christina Lampropoulos, president of the SOBA. "This is direct dealing," referring to the unfair labor practice when management directly engages with individual members instead of dealing with their union.

The union has filed to represent the Captain title.

A management source, speaking conditioned on anonymity, said, "So, the union is taking the position the TBTA and MTA would look at heavy-handed union-busting tactics like that---I really don't think that would benefit the MTA." 

In a statement, Abbey Collins, the MTA's Chief Communications Officer, claimed the union on the attack because it had failed to successfully negotiate a contract for several years and now found itself caught up in the fiscal crisis caused by the coronavirus, making it difficult to get a deal even after it reduced its demands.

2 Rounds Behind and 'Stuck'

Like all other unions that negotiate with the MTA, SOBA's contract has historically tracked the pattern established the largest one, Transport Workers Union Local 100. But its inability to get new terms since its old pact expired in 2012 means the TBTA union now lags two rounds behind the rest of the MTA workforce.

"In 2015, the prior union president settled the contract from 2009 to 2012 and I have been trying to bargain the 2012 to 2019" period, Ms. Lampropoulos said. "Now, the MTA just told the unions they are not bargaining anymore because of COVID-19 and they are in a financial crisis, and we are stuck now."

"The MTA has more than 30 unions and over 70,000 employees, with 90 percent of our workforce represented," Ms. Collins wrote. "The union had multiple opportunities over a period of eight years to settle prior to COVID-19 budget restraints, failed to do so and now has instead resorted to making inflammatory and false accusations."

But Ms. Lampropoulos maintains the union has been stymied by TBTA negotiators who fight the union at every turn. "TBTA Labor Relations drags out all of our litigation with numerous hearings to spend all of the union's money," she said.

Union's Arbitration Win

The most-recent case was an arbitration that stretched over 17 hearings between April 2017 and May 2019 that management ultimately lost when arbitrator Robert Douglas ordered the agency to "cease and desist" from violating the union contract.

It involved a grievance the union filed on behalf of Sgt. Roberto Rivera, who on June 7, 2016 was compelled to work for more than 22 hours at the Throgs Neck Bridge, although the union's contract prohibited overtime beyond a 12-hour shift, except in an emergency.

"They decided to cut staffing down, so when someone was going to be absent they tried to just piecemeal things together." Ms. Lampropoulos said. "So in 2016, when that fell apart, our member was required to work, but our contract does not define 'an emergency' as filling in because someone took a planned day off. An emergency is defined as a snowstorm or some other kind of major disaster."

After 17 hours, Sergeant Rivera was relieved, but there were three accidents in quick succession which required his attention and paperwork that he had to complete because he was scheduled to be off over the two following days.

According to the union it has dozens of unresolved grievances.

"The TBTA attorney argues with everybody and it's a tactic that I have learned over the last five years he uses to make sure every day goes by without any progress on these grievances," Ms. Lampropoulos. "All of this just costs the TBTA hundreds of thousands of dollars."

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