Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"A Strike, as in 1980"

These are the responses to my December 13 article, "POSSIBILITY OF TRANSIT STRIKE RECALLS THE STRUGGLE IN 1980; UNION IGNORES PUBLIC'S NEEDS, CAN WE EXPECT THEM TO CARE?" Thanks to all, please continue to provide us with your feedback.

30 comments:

  1. The real problem is that the MTA is a mismanaged patronage mill. If employerees are are not working efficiently is that not a question of suprvsion and standards setting? Working conditions fro MTA employees are dangerous and often unhealthy. This is a failure of management. It is not surprising that the unions think they can take advantage of management at the negotiaiting table. If said management negotiatiates ans well as it does everything else, the union should be able to roll them without any trouble at all.

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  2. HighLine3:15 PM

    great column and link to the Duggan piece, I have been curious what happened last time.

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  3. if these Disunited States can spend 300 billion i to rebuild Iraq then we can afford to look after our workers. Shame on you for this attack on the rights of unions to get the best possible conditions for their members.

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  4. Anonymous3:24 PM

    MTA management is lousy. And the workers aren't great either. Both are a problem.

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  5. I had an interesting converstion riding the bus the other day with the
    > driver, a bright and outspoken gal of about 40 years old. Appearently,
    the
    > new buses recently bought have been breaking down, and many design
    features
    > were illogical. She asked why they didn't ask the drivers what they
    thought
    > about their purchase choices, or options. Now, I know it might be a leap,
    > but I believe the choices being made are not being made with proper
    > consultation of the working folks, the people who actually keep the buses
    > rolling. I'm all for making sure these folks make as much as possible, as
    > they need to raise families and secure a future when the body gives out.
    > Perhaps, the problem lies in the disempowerment of the staff by too many
    > suits taking lunches and making financial decisions, without proper
    > consultation of these people.
    >

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  6. This is no different from any other situation in labor-city negotiations. We wait until the last minute on both sides. The city lies about how much money is available and the unions demand. Somewhere in-between and eventually we settle.

    The answer is a set pattern of raises for all city workers by contract over many years not for two or three. No one worker is more important than another. Police/Fire do dangerous things but they are not forced to take the job. They also get a VSF check every December while others get nothing. No one agency should be treated differently from another.

    However, reality and PC correctness make it so and take over the process. We have agencies where overtime can boost a persons pension in their last year of work. Others are denied the opportunity and retire on smaller pensions. The whole pension system needs reform.

    Who gets hurt is the question? We all do. However, on a daily basis most rarely think of those who give them the service of garbage collection, police protection, fire department who save lives and come to rescue of so many. Oh! and yes those who man the buses and subways on a daily basis. We take that for granted.

    Do I like or want a strike? NO. However, that is the system until it changes. It has been that way as long as you and I remember. Let's not ever condemn those who do the jobs most do not want nor would consider at anytime in their lives.

    This is the way it is and the way it will be.

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  7. Excellent, Henry. A reasonable conclusion. My favorite factoid is your reference to how they got the contract to expire on Dec. 15. You always say the things in the back of my mind, but that I would never think to articulate.

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  8. Question: is two days pay for each day of strike the only permitted penalty, and what counts as pay?

    Given that only half of private sector employees in NY even have health insurance, I'm not sure that it's fair to continue paying for health insurance for TWU workers and retirees while many NYC workers are laid off because of a strike.

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  9. Who that lived through it will forget the 1966 strike which started on John Lindsay's first day as mayor? Key player was the colorful Mike Quill who derisively referred to him as Lindslay and a pipsqueak. He tore up a court injunction issued to halt the strike, saying: "The judge can drop dead in his black robes. I don't care if I rot in jail. I will not call off the strike." Quill died, almost poetically, just days after the strike. It seemed as though, having led the TWU though the strike, he had served his function in life. Now that was a strike.

    See Michael Quill in About TWU, an excerpt from Lindsay, Quill, & the Transit Strike in Commentary Magazine and a short piece in The Washington Post.

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  10. Pardon me, Mr. Stern, but what other recourse do the Transit Workers have? I don't notice the MTA toppers cutting back on their huge salaries and bonuses. And I don't recall their driving trains and buses.

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  11. "Transit workers raising children and paying mortgages may have a different perspective."

    How does anyone raise a family on $50,000 in New York?

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  12. Don't you think the MTA shot itself in the foot a little bit by offering $50 million worth of silly discounted (and possibly illegal--if Richard Brodsky is to be believed--perhaps he isn't) holiday Metrocards (which are not meeting the MTA's sales projections) supported by a similarly silly (and presumably not free) ad campaign?

    I'm not saying I find the transit union's requests to be all that reasonable but it's hard to sell to the labor force (let alone the general public) that the MTA is underfinanced against its long-term needs (which I genuinely think it is) when it wastes money, without public hearings, on such visible and frivolous things.

    For my part, I'm most galled that the MTA would do such a thing only 2 weeks after the approval of the new transportation bonds, which it also supported aggressively with (again, presumably not free) advertising and loud claims about the pressing nature of its long-term financial needs.

    Bottom line: They seem to have a rather tone-deaf PR ear over at the MTA. It's difficult for me not to shake my head from the (admittedly comfortable) sidelines.

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  13. henry, once again you outdid yourself in your analytical powers this time pruning the vineyards of transitmalia. my only quandry is, is there anyone out there listening to you? i sure hope so. one thing as with the board of ed, the mta should revert to becoming a mayoral/governor agency with accountability traced to a single elected official---no more buck passing. these agencies of rocky's era are obsolete. the attempt to made govt agencies replicate private business structures and ethos is a pure fiction at best. they do not run on a profit motive and the constraints that would come with such a discipline. it's time to give up the ghosts for all these agencies! and go back to good old -time departments of transpotation....bridges.....tunnels etc..etc... and let us say,amen. Agree?

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  14. I read your posting this morning with a sense of dismay. You appear to be be having difficulty in blaming the MTA fat cats and the bureaucrats who blindly follow them, and fall back on that old saw--the public good. As a fellow alum of CCNY ('53) I do not recall being taught that that was a satisfactory tactic. Keep up the good work, but let's see a little more compassion for those people who, as you say, have to send their children to school and pay their mortgages.

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  15. Henry, good article but didn't the settlement in 1980 wipe away the fines levied against the union and its members? I seem to recall that was one of Bobby's strong objections.

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  16. How crass and typical of an "upper-middle-class" New Yorker like yourself to place the blame for the transit strike on the little guy - scraping out a living.
    First off, how many personal friends or close friends do you have - who are driving New York City buses and trains for a living Mr. Stern? Any? One, maybe? Probably not.
    So I guess you and Nicole Gelinas (well-paid NYTimes columnist) know first hand what it takes to eke out a living in expensive New York on a blue-collar salary and feed and clothe a family. Not to mention health issues from breathing-in the toxins that come along with the job.
    Shame on you that you did not take the high-road and mention in your article the billions of dollars that MTA could not account for 3 or 4 years ago. I think it was something like $2 billion or more - if I remember correctly. I know it was BILLIONS – unaccounted for. I’ll bet you $5 bucks “the disappearing funds” did not go into the pockets of the bus drivers and train conductors. Yes, some of us NYC residents have long memories.
    But alas, the burden and blame always falls on the shoulders of the least powerful. The little guy who has no place to go except for his union and the other "authorities". And who is screwed by everyone up and down the line. From our billionaire mayor, to our rich governor, to the corrupt MTA and UTA.
    It's always the little guy's fault for taking extreme measures in his petition to be heard. You see him everyday, the schmuck who does the grunt work and spends 8-12 hours a day inhaling the filth and exhaust in New York City subways and on city streets. That "dispensable" working class stiff who is the brunt of more personal insults in a day than most people experience in a lifetime.
    Please do me a favor and cancel my email subscription to our organization. And have the decency to walk in the shoes of the little guy before you start to throwing stones and talking about what's "enough" to make ends meet in New York.

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  17. Great analysis, am in total agreement with your viewpoints. A new generation of workers never experienced the fallout of the 1980 strike and I ultimately believe the union leadership will blink.

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  18. Don't think they would dare to do it!

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  19. Guardsman.4:14 PM

    remember the 1980 strike well, but was not really affected by it. I
    lived on Staten Island, and neither the Staten Island Train nor the
    Ferry went on strike. I was at the Arsenal at the time and we had a DPR
    bus pick us up and drop us off at Battery Park. The Commissioner at the
    time (Gordon Davis) was glad to have so many of us from SI and those
    living within walking distance.
    At the time, F&H also had the Golf Courses. Forestry was planting trees
    taken off of our nursery on Rikers Island; Flower Beds were sprouting
    with Tulips & Daff's; lawns were being rehabilitated, and Green Houses
    finalizing their Flower propagation. So it was a very busy time. So, I
    was lucky and DPR had contingency planning at the time

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  20. REMEMBER BOTH TRANSIT STRIKES - BUT THE FIRST ONE I WASN'T SCARED OF THE INVASION OF THE INEPT HEEDLESS CYCLISTS. iN 1980 THREE WOMEN KILLED BY BIKES - MAYBE WASN'T IN TRANSIT STRIKE - MUST CHECK MY FILES BUT JUST TOO TIRED. THANKS FOR YOUR HISTORY.

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  21. You have written a good summary!!

    I have enjoyed my 5 trips to France, but strikes and threats of strikes have always
    been a down side.

    I remember a 1979 trip to Italy through France.

    A friend's brother was a travel agent who pointed out that by having a car with French
    license plates we would be eligible to buy Italian PETRO COUPONS at the border
    before going into Italy and save the taxes on gasoline. Saving about 60 cents a liter
    was a real incentive for young workers.

    Unfortunately, when we took off from NYC the French airline unions struck so we
    were to go by a 9 hour train from Paris to Nice. While over the Atlantic the unions
    decided they did not want to damage the American tourist trade so they would fly
    us domestically from Paris to Nice. However, we had to transfer from de Gaulle
    Airport to Orly and then wait 5 hours for the connecting flight.

    The transportation disruption is still vivid in my mind, and I am sure HOLIDAY SHOPPERS
    WOULD NEVER FORGET THEIR TRIP TO MANHATTAN IF IT HAPPENS.

    The mayor has build a major company, and I hope he takes FIRM CONTROL.!!!

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  22. Alas, Kalikow and Toussaint aren't going to be as much fun to watch as were John Lindsay and Mike Quill.

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  23. Sorry, I can't figure out how to "blog" but wanted you to know what I think. These are greedy people who have no respect or loyalty to the people of New York. This is an important season for us, economically and NY is filled with tourists. Just watching that man, whoever is the head of the Union, backed by that jerk Sharpton, was enough to make me ill. The transit workers, according to all I've read, make more money and have better benefits that those in the private sector.
    Pataki should do what Reagan did....fire all of them and hire people willing to do blue collar work at almost $50,000 a year. There was a time we needed unions but that time is long past. The Teachers union and this mess shows us that they are exploiting the people of New York. True, teachers are better paid in Nassau but the home owners pay double and sometimes triple the taxes of the home owners in the City. They vote school budgets and where I live they mostly vote them up. I pay the taxes for that even though I am a senior. How can you hire a union electrician when they demand more than a surgeon? No wonder housing costs too much....okay, enough...I'm sure you got my point. I think the Transit Union will strike and I'm sure that it will upset the economy and life of New Yorkers because they don't give a damn about community, only about upsetting and ruling New York.

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  24. Fine piece on the transit mess, a hold-up without a gun

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  25. Mike Quill and Robert Wagner had it down pat. They would agree on the deal over the Summer and then publicly bicker for months on end. The workers felt that Quill was going all out for them. And the voters thought that Wagner was holding out for the best deal. On D-Day they announced a contract that had been secretly agreed to months before.

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  26. Starquest, your point of view is swerving like a taxi.
    > You could say it all to your bus driver as you get off the bus:

    THANK YOU FOR THE SAFE, SMOOTH COURTEOUS RIDE.
    WE HOPE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY GET WHAT YOU WANT FOR THE HOLIDAYS !
    HOW CAN YOU THINK OF DENYING OUR FAMILYS ACCESS TO WHAT WE WANT FOR THE
    HOLIDAYS ?

    WE CAN'T BELIEVE THE NINCOMPOOPS IN YOUR FRONT OFFICE ARE THINKING OF GIVING YOU WHAT YOU WANT FOR THE HOLIDAYS !#@+!
    WATCH IT !!!! YOU ALMOST MOWED DOWN THAT OLD LADY WHEN YOU RAN THE LIGHT,
    HONKED YOUR HORN AND SIDESWIPED THE CAB

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  27. Mayor Lindsay was very badly advised by his "allies" in the labor movement, and told me many years later that he considered his failure to take a harder line with the TWU early, when he still had the good will of the public, to be the single greatest failure in his entire political career. Badly advised or not, of course , he has to take the blame. But it would be a shame if this principled and visionary failed-politician should be remembered for this only. Whatever good has resulted in savings or progress from the compression of city government, reform of the most corrupt practices of the community "education system", and improvements in parks, recreation, and race relations, are also a part of his legacy. To paraphrase Murray Kempton's later lamented soubriquet, he was fresh when everyone else seemed tired. In the age of manager/leaders, we too often fail to recall the advantages and benefits of inspired leadership - even as it fails. Mayor Lindsay lost the respect and support of many a professional politician, but, as I told him in the conversation referred to at the beginning of this note, I don't believe he ever lost the respect of the public; I might have added, though I didn't, not even those who could no longer bring themselves to support him. That in itself is a singular achievement worthy of some reverent remembrance.

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  28. Brisket11:40 AM

    Since I am majoring in industrial and labor relations, I enjoyed this
    > article very much. The article provides a balanced view of the concerns of
    > both sides, but you are correct to focus primarily on the abuses of the
    > union--after all, the city cannot pack up and move elsewhere, the way a
    > private company could. The implicit dilemma of public sector unionism is
    > clear: the danger of plundering the taxpayers--those without any political
    > clout or influence--for the benefit of those with such connections. Ever
    > since JFK allowed Federal employees to unionize in the early '60s, public
    > sector unions have grown briskly, especially at the municipal level,
    > making these issues ever more significant.
    >
    > The government has always been the catalyst for union expansion, starting
    > with the Wagner Act of 1935. Public sector unions take this relationship
    > one step further--not only are they allowed to organize under favorable
    > conditions, but they bargain with the government itself; of course they
    > will win over and over again. Thus, public unions continue to expand,
    > while their private sector counterparts inexorably wither away.
    >

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  29. Once again, you're right on. The key I agree is the term "similar skill set". Realistically, the MTA, who, by the way, I can't stand any more than the union, should outsource most of the un- and semi-skilled jobs. Ever see a car cleaner run through a train with a broom and pan. And this for 50 grand a year + bennys and pension. Not to mention overtime. I know from personal contacts that there are subway workers making well over $75k a year with OT.

    Maybe Reagan had the right idea with the air traffic controllers.

    From what I've been reading recently in the media, most private sector workers can't even collect the pensions they've paid for over their work years. These MTA employees are guaranteed a benefit and pension package better than anything for similar workers in private industry.

    On the other hand, the MTA should sacrifice at least 10% of the political appointees, oops, I mean highly qualified vice-presidents, who decorate their offices. It's just unbelievable how corrupt every aspect of NY politics and public "service" has become. We desperately need term llimits at every level of state government.

    All in all, it's the commuters who take the hit.

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  30. Several years ago when the Building employees went on strike, I did the math with them and showed how they were being screwed. There were a lot of PIssed off strikers in my building and other nearby ones.
    when the hotheads get it in the pocketbook as Bloomberg is sure to do, they will come out on the short end of the stick

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