Thursday, December 15, 2005

"Is This the Eve of Destruction"

These are the responses to my December 15 article, "Is This the Eve of Destruction; Will There Be A Strike." Thanks to all, please continue to provide us with your feedback.


  1. Marty Markowitz, who lives in Park Slope, told me the mayor could sleep on his couch if he wanted...

  2. Anonymous5:54 PM

    just because the greedy corporate world is beginning to change its health care and pension programs (so the top 5% of the companies can make more money in bonus's then I will make in my lifetime, while the lower tear gets shafted), does not mean the MTA has to as well.

  3. From the MTA website:
    "Yankee Stadium Shuttle will serve a temporary Yankee Stadium Park-&-Ride facility. Trains will operate between Yankee Stadium, Harlem-125th Street, and Grand Central Terminal."

    Why can't they leave the station there so we can get to regular Yankee games using Metro-North?

  4. As I was getting on the M86 Crosstown this afternoon, I asked the driver "Are you going to be taking a vacation tomorrow?" He glanced away and said softly "I hope so." At least I think that's what he said. It could have been "I hope not." Hard to tell.

  5. Edward B (Woody) Ryder IV6:00 PM

    Bravo Messieur Stern! Another great article.

  6. Bloomberg should do what Reagan did with the air traffic controllers. If striking is against the law, give them an alternative. Return to work or be replaced.

  7. Anonymous8:59 AM

    Since 7 million people pay and ride the MTA system each day, and since, let's face it, who wants these jobs? Mostly people of color and less education who live within the city and who should be fairly well paid so as to be able to live prosper here; afterall, who among us can image driving a bus in the snow for 8 hours . . .

  8. There is something "much deeper' going on here than money for blue collar clearly is NOT the reason that Toussaint is fighting this fight.
    Because high schools and colleges no longer bother to teach much of
    anything about the labor union movement in the 1920's and 30's, tens of millions of Americans - most especially the newcomers to our shores who are so much
    part of the blue collar life (look at the TWU demographics and note the changes in the last 5 years) have no idea that the movement helped make it
    possible for blue collar workers to enter and be a major part of the middle class life - a life which marks America's true success as a capitalist nation.
    Toussaint has known all along that the MTA would offer him the kind of 3% raise which is now acceptable in the blue collar world. He's also known -
    and says over and over again- that he does not want to lead these transit workers into a life which will limit future employees from entering America's middle class. The police and fire leadership, acting on pure
    self interest and a knowledge of
    how the system can work in their favor, permitted the deal which mandates $25,000 starting salaries.
    It will be possible for entering police and firemen to move up because they are buttressed by families to help them. Most of these men (and some women) come from an Irish or Italian family cullture deeply embedded in the work of the fire and police. Fathers, brothers, cousins going back fifty years. They can start smaller and work their way up. Transit workers - increasingly brown and black - have none of that
    cultural/family support to help get them through these enforced lean years. And as you yourself suggest, do not and will not see the rapid raises that police and fire workers receive. It is sad - but obvious - that the labor movement no longer genuinely
    exists. Highly paid labor leaders up-from-the-ranks like Dennis and Randy can make their deals with political leadership protecting their salaries
    and power posititons in the unions they run as they do it. No reason to look
    at a bigger picture. No reason to protect the future of workers-to-come. It takes a Toussaint to tell the truth..a man facing a lose-lose situation if there ever was one. And yet he's had the courage, if not the power, to
    show us the future of the blue collar life in America.
    > Two ways to further change and downgrade America are now very much in
    > reduce the power of a citizenry to think, decide and act by limiting their
    > education; and compress and limit the growth of the middle class by
    > people's ability to enter it. Both of these areas - education and the blue
    > collar entry into middle class life - are the foundations of America's
    > and its strength as a productive, influential world power. Take them away
    > and America as we know it -- is gone.

  9. Not a suggestion on how to determine wages--though I
    > like Mayor Koch's idea--but a thought occurred to me
    > last night: Do you think that the December expiration
    > of the contract helps or hurts the union? The
    > conventional wisdom is that it provides added leverage
    > because the commercial effect of a strike is
    > unacceptable to the City. But I wonder if by raising
    > the stakes on the impact of a strike, the Union just
    > makes it that much less feasible that they will be
    > able to strike successfully. A strike is pretty much
    > a declaration of war against the City; but in
    > December, with the weather and the commerical impact,
    > it's a threat of nuclear holocaust. How would the
    > Union have justified a strike to the public today,
    > when it's being offered 3% pay increases, work
    > accomodations, etc.? Perhaps if there were layoffs or
    > salary cuts on the table, but in the absence of such
    > dire straits, I just think that the strike threat
    > rings rather hollow. If the Union lost both on the
    > streets and at the bargaining table twenty years ago
    > during good weather when the City was not as busy,
    > imagine what would happen to it if it had struck
    > across the board today.
    > If I were the City negotiator, I think I would bargain
    > away my demand for a 15 month contract, and let the
    > union keep it's December expiration date.

  10. In this "Eve of Destruction" I would fight fire with fire. Remember Ronald Reagan and the air traffic controllers. Charge all strikers with a violation of the law. Prosecute those who do not return to work at once. Call in the national guard to operate the system as best they can, and then return to the bargaining table. You will then have bargaining power on both sides - strike for wages - come to a settlement or have a criminal record. It is hard to get employment with a criminal record.

    The arrogance of this moment will not go unnoticed.

  11. First thank you for your comprehensive and most sensible to me thoughts on the possible strike MTA etcetera. You know I've often written about need for public transit and the greatly threatened Amtrak for numerous reasons, but above all for traffic safety, safe passage. Public as opposed to private transit is at least ten time safer- especially the railed kind. Life and limb is at stake and so is the monetary cost of motor vehicle collisions $150 billion annually to taxpayers whether we use private transit or not.

    And any transit strike will cause more collisions, deaths and injuries, not to mention slow-killing stress. This is rarely noted. As far as bikes, ridden by inexpert riders especially they cause more danger to themselves and others sharing this finite turf. The mayor in his passion for the two wheeler fails to recognize the ubiquitous disdain for traffic laws by cyclists and messengers and food deliverers are the most frequent offenders.

    I only hope you will consider this danger you once admitted and quoted in my May 1984 NY Times piece on bike anarchy here, that a bicycle was more threatening than a motor vehicle because it was small, silent and could come at you from any direction. And their numbers have since greatly increased but not the compliance and the same thing happening in London and elsewhere.

    Bette who in 1982 formed the Pedestrians First grass roots group which focused primarily on bike lawlessness because nobody else did. But also very much against motor vehicle kind, especially the very potentially lethal turning into pedestrian crosswalks. Also opposed to pedestrian noncompliance.

  12. Kudos on your article. As always it is well written and hits a home run on nailing the issues surrounding a potential strike.

    On one hand you have an inept corrupt non for profit organization with corporate fat cats receiving large salaries. It irkes me to no end that the cost of the MTA headquarters at Two Broadway cost tens of millions over budget due to the infiltration by the Italian mob and the other bottom feeders that were allowed to take the MTA for a bath.

    On the other hand you have the working man who is trying to obtain a livable wage and benefits from this bloated corporate bureaucracy. In order to get what they want the Transit Workers Union is willing to violate the law and bring the transit system to a stop thereby crippling the economic engine that drives the city. As you stated the Transit Worker's willingness to tear up a court order in front of a camera shows a callous disregard for the rule of law. AN ancillary benefit of a strike is the Transit Workers Union hierarchy's increased power for political and financial gain for themselves and their members.

    One analyzing the proper course of action one must take practical reality into consideration. Although the utopian solution would be to cut the MTA corporate bigwigs salaries and perks and give the workers what they want. The reality is that it won't happen. However, the Transit Worker's disregard of the rule of law can be and must be addressed If the workers strike, the full weight of the Taylor Law must be brought to bear on the union and its leaders. Disregard of the rule of law can be neither tolerated nor condoned. Then we will see if Roger Toussiant and company is as tough as his predecessors.

    Admittedly, self interest drives my choices. My mother is a seventy-one year old women who takes the train to work every day. If she does not go into work her company a British conglomerate called Restaurant Associates will dock her pay and will not allow her to use sick time or vacation. IT is cold and icy out if there is a strike mom will not be working and will lose a day's pay that she cannot afford to lose. As much as I would like to punish the idiot that came up with that policy and the MTA bosses, the only realistic target to punish is the Transit Workers for ignoring the rule of law.

    Lastly on the rantings of that idiot Jesse Jackson who has the terminity to compare the strike to Rosa Park's protest it is nice to hear him make comments like that so that he shows the world how out of touch with reality and how stupid and foolish he really is.

  13. Outstanding column (December 15, 2005). My two cents:

    Our cojones-challenged elected officials should take a page out of
    President Reagan's playbook and, in the event of an illegal strike, fire
    the striking workers. The workers receive excellent benefits and fair
    wages -- certainly, there will be no shortage of qualified
    replacements. Some of the fired workers would likely leave NYC to find employment
    elsewhere...making NYC a better place without them.

    Listening to the president of the PBA lie...and watching how the
    media ate it up...just made my stomach turn. "The MTA should not
    CRIMINALIZE the union's efforts blah blah blah..." Last I checked,
    "criminalize" means to make something criminal where it was not criminal before.
    Last I checked, the Taylor law has been on the books for decades.

    It is high time these out-of-control unions are stood up to.

  14. Allen Bortnick3:06 PM

    I read with interest your article about the transit strike. If we look at life, it is really like a pendulum. Since the pendulum is always in motion, we move from right to left and then back again to right. It is to be hoped that more time will be spent in the center of the swing, thus being able to win approval from the general public to the greatest degree.

    Aside from the usual trash that happens in government and in politics, I think the failure that has most affected the situation in New York with unions, stems back to the Lindsay administration. As the saying goes, never put the Fox in charge of the chickens. When then-Mayor Lindsay chose Arthur Goldberg to delineate contracts for the city unions, not only did the pendulum swing off center, it went completely haywire. Mr. Goldberg's background as a union attorney should have been a red flag as to how he might react, when given the power to create and negotiate contracts. In my humble opinion, that is only one of the many small failures in City Hall during the Lindsay reign.

    As you ably point out, switching from April to December for an end-date for contracts with this union, opened the door for disaster if any problems occurred. But again, that is typical of city-type planning. There is seldom any forethought, primarily because the people in the room bring with them talents for very little other than sitting around, being verbose, self-congratulatory and more interested in the coffee break and the lunch to come, than in the reality they are supposed to be meeting about.

    Don't get me wrong, I am very much in favor of unions as a protection for employees. But working for this city has become a rich plum. Between retirement plans, pension plans, medical plans and other benefits, the unions are doing fairly well. The problem is that in earlier contracts, the accent was on those plans, rather than salary. Now that everything is in place, they suddenly discover, much to their own 'amazement', that it is time to put some money in their pockets as well, and act as if all of those benefits do not exist. So the overly-verbose leaders come out with guns blazing, to impress their members and hang on to their fancy jobs and all the power they wield. The words ‘give-backs’ and 'productivity', as well as ‘quality of performance on-the-job', are anathema in their conversations.

    I am reminded of something I heard many years ago; the boss hollers out the window at one of his employees, "Hey Ike, what are you doing?" The brusque reply is, "Nothing!". So the boss yells back, "What is Mike doing?", to which the reply is, "Helping me." This I give you, in response to the union ploy of offering to discuss lower wage demands, if the number of grievances and complaints against their members are reduced as a trade-off, regardless of whether justified or not.

    When it comes to money, like everything else, it is never enough in the eyes of some people. However, I do not recall that as being an issue when a prospective employee comes looking for a job with the city. As a perfect example, when the test for the Police Department goes out, the long line of prospects runs down the block and around the corner. With so many other jobs available, are these people absolutely and totally bereft of common sense when they get on that line, or is their desire merely to get a job that will give them an opportunity to perpetually complain about salary and working conditions? Somewhere in their medicine cabinet, must be a small bottle labeled 'stupid pills' that they take every morning. Perhaps many of them are like my friend’s son, who just wanted to have the right to carry a gun legally and be a big shot to his friends.

    This may not sound like the right thing to say at a time when two police officers were just killed. I strongly value the service these men and women perform every single day of the year and in some instances they may very well be underpaid, but like everything else, when you make a choice, you know the realities of the situation, (and that includes your paycheck), so please, don't start to scream, especially about money. The ifs and buts were always there and you knew about them. Ignorance, to me, is no excuse, especially ex post facto.

    Frankly, I wish they go out on strike and that somebody gets a court order to assess the penalties to the union and its membership. Perhaps that will lead to reality setting in for all city employees and lead to binding arbitration, which is how things should be resolved in the first place, when disputes arise.

  15. I believe the time to get to train operator (I don’t think it’s open competitive exam but a promotional exam from conductor or other title) is longer than a Police Officer to get to a comparable full pay. What the Police starting salary shows is the Solomon decisions by arbitration. (Mayor Koch’s proposal is what baseball has used to pay players millions for not hitting and not catching a baseball.) If you go back to the Knapp Commission police salaries were raised to reduce gifts and corruption of police officers.

    What I don’t understand is the MTA’s giving away the surplus. I presume it was written into their legislation by the former electeds. Why shouldn’t they invest it for the lean years? Didn’t the airlines do that? If not they wouldn’t be around today.

  16. How about writing "without residents incurring special damages because the M.T.A. agreed to $hundreds of millions in cost overruns on the renovations of their new headquarters after the contractor paid Al D'Amato for one phone call $500,000 to lobby them?" or, "because the M.T.A. has been willing to sell the West Side and Atlantic yards to the Jets and Bruce Ratner, respectively, for considerably less than they probably could have been offered if they required vigorous bidding on each?"
    If you're going to write two columns on this possible strike and focus on the Union as much as you have, the Agency ought to be under equally thorough scrutiny

  17. Anonymous4:22 PM

    In case you haven't noticed, you are talking about two different MTAs. One, led by Virgil Conway, and one led by Peter Kalikow. They are not the same. Kalikow is hindered by the Conway legacy. It's hard to remove those politically connected to Conway.

    Consider these problems Kalikow has with the "irremovable" old guard. Slowly there is change. But change is there.

  18. This strike is a big lemon with an opportunity to make lgreat lemonade.
    The Mtma is virtually bankrupt, kept afloat by a gigantic ballon mortgage
    that will saddle New Yorkers with huge servicing costs for decades to come.
    The transit union is eager to extend a package of wages, fringe benefits and
    early reitirement that is the best in the world for semi-skilled workers.
    While maintaining an attitide even the French would envy. For new york to
    give in would be fiscal suicide with the only variable being the speed at
    which other city workers demand parity. Even an amiable compromise will doom
    New York to continuation of the decades-long erosion of population and
    middle-class vitality to other rewgions. Manhattan will become another
    imperial city like Washington DC with ver rich and porr and aspiring
    wannabees willing to sleep in closets, united in scorn at the philistine
    middle class they squeezed out.
    > Unless New York gets its back up and says enough is enough. The first
    signs are not promising. Bloomberg has not bothered to rallly oublic opinion
    to action and today he scored an own goal by imposing a 4 person per car
    rule with strict slowe monitoring that left the strrets of Manhattan below
    96th as calm as Saturdays and allowed taxis roearn 80 bucks driving 5 miles.
    The media is lauding Bbg for how calmly he is (not) tackling the issues but
    this has made it even harder on the great upper- and lower-class majority oc
    commuters from outer borough and beyond.
    > The core problem seems to be that Bloomberg is a New York plutocrat moe
    concerned about his image as a nice person than about the struggles of
    middle class folks iin the private sector. Can this crisis make him think
    more about doing good than being applauded for the pseudo-good? We'll see.
    But the first signs are not promising.

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