Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Thompson's Strike Statement

The following is a statement by New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. concerning the transit strike:

“It is extremely regrettable that the labor talks between TWU Local 100 and the MTA have come to this. While New Yorkers will rise to any challenge, this strike will have a devastating effect on our City’s economy, especially during the height of the holiday season. I ask the TWU leadership to end the strike immediately and urge both parties to return to the negotiating table without delay in order to settle this dispute.”


  1. New York City's transit union called a strike against the city's buses and subways overnight, leaving millions of commuters to make alternate plans for getting to work, or alternatively, to stay home.

    I rode my ten-speed bicycle into work from my home near the GW Bridge, about 6 miles. This morning's temperature was about 22 degrees, but it felt colder with the westerly winds across the frigid Hudson River this morning. The Palisades of New Jersey seemed to glow in shades of red from the morning sun as I rode down a hill in Fort Washington Park, under the bridge and past the Little Red Lighthouse onto the Hudson River Greenway. This bike path will eventually run from the Battery north to Albany and above. Today it was a good alternative for bike commuting into midtown Manhattan.

    The bike path had pretty heavy traffic, about the same as when I commuted by bike during the summer. Most riders were headed south, but a few were pedaling north. The winds off the river seemed to be against me, reducing my speed to less than 10 mph. Hopefully, these winds will be at my back heading home tonight.

    Vehicular traffic on the adjacent Henry Hudson Parkway was stop and go, if that, down to 125th Street. A large parking lot in Riverside Park at 150th Street, designated as a car pool lot, was only 10% full when I rode by at 8:25. Between 125 and 96 streets, the NYPD was turning away cars with fewer than 4 occupants; I saw a highway patrolman doing so at the 125th Street on-ramp for the parkway, holding up a placard that said "4 Riders." A couple of drivers were arguing with him, but most seemed to take the restriction in stride. I just rode around the NYPD car and pedaled onto the Cherry Walk section of the bikeway and continued on past Grant's Tomb and Riverside Church.

    At Riverbank State Park, which sits atop the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant in West Harlem, I rode alongside a section of the bikeway which is under construction (tentative completion date: Spring 2006), then on granite paved streets under the Riverside Drive Viaduct past the Fairway store. The ride through Riverside Park was enjoyable, and I exited the park at West 72nd Street and rode on West End Avenue, 65th Street and Columbus Avenue to my office at NYC Parks & Recreation on West 61st Street, just off Columbus Circle. Total travel time (including a 5 minute water break sitting alongside the clay tennis courts in Riverside Park): 45 minutes.

    This transit strike is illegal, as all public employees in New York State are prohibited by the Taylor Law from striking. That a delusional leadership of the Transport Workers Union could see any benefit from shutting down New York five days before Christmas in freezing weather is just beyond belief. The union had many legal remedies open to it, including a binding arbitration process that typically splits the difference to arrive at a settlement. Penalties under the Taylor Law include fines of two-days pay per worker for each day on strike, and fines in the hundreds of thousands to the union as a whole, that will quickly accumulate into the millions of dollars.

    The biggest penalty is to the millions of New Yorkers who use the buses and subways to get to and from work each day. Many of these are the so-called working poor, striving to better themselves and making only a fraction of the $60,000 starting salary that at TWU subway operator receives. For a union of such coddled members to call a strike on the backs of poor and middle class New Yorkers is just immoral. The strike will also inconvenience or cause cancellations of many tourist trips to the city during the holidays, and will ripple negatively throughout the city';s economy, depressing sales at stores, shutting down restaurants and other entertainment. Mayor Bloomberg has estimated that direct costs (such as police overtime) and indirect costs may reach $550 million a day.

    Staring at such a devastating effect, fining the TWU members seems trivial by comparison.

    In 1919 the Boston Police Department also called an illegal strike. Then-governor Calvin Coolidge refused to negotiate and broke the union, stating famously: "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time." Coolidge was nominated for vice president in 1920 on the strength of his steadfast actions, and became president in 1923 on the death of President Harding.

    Here in New York, our lame duck governor, George Pataki, is said to be testing the waters for a presidential candidacy in 2008. Up till now, the governor has been noticeably absent from the transit negotiations conducted by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a state agency. Governor Pataki has contented himself with a few bromides about how a strike would be illegal. I have some political advice for the governor. If he is serious about running for president, he could do no better than to emulate Calvin Coolidge in 1919, and indeed paraphrase Coolidge's famous quotation. And the governor might want to look at the resolute action taken by President Reagan in 1981 when the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Union staged an illegal strike and shut down the nation's air traffic. Reagan gave the strikers 48 hours to return to work. About 15% of the strikers did return, and then Reagan -- true to his word -- fired the remaining PATCO members still on strike. The federal government quickly trained and hired replacement controllers, and within 60 days air travel was back to normal.

    Governor Pataki could take inspiration from the example of Coolidge and Reagan in dealing decisively with an illegal strike, and threaten to fire the striking TWU members. Running the transit system is not exactly rocket science. New subway operators, conductors, bus drivers and maintenance workers could be trained and hired to run the system in a matter of weeks. I have actually operated a subway simulator at the MTA's training center in Brooklyn, and found the experience to be as easy as riding a bicycle. The system could be running on a reduced speed and reduced service basis in a few days.

    Simply fining the TWU members is insufficient punishment for the callous disregard they have shown to our great city. In the 1980 strike the TWU simply held out for enough of a raise to cover the cost of the fines to its members. These coddled and complacent workers deserve to lose their jobs for this illegal strike. I mentioned the $60,000 starting salary for a subway operator. Did I mention that now the TWU members pay nothing toward their pension costs and make zero contribution to their health care plan? It's true, and part of the reason for this strike is that the MTA asked the union to begin making such contributions, as do most other public sector and private sector workers in the city. Oh, and the union wants to reduce the present age 55 retirement down. and permit employees to retire at age 50 after only 20 years of service (just like NYPD officers).

    The MTA is certainly not a model public sector organization, with more than its share of boondoggles (a $500 millioin headquarters renovation thqat is the subject of criminal investigation) and misplaced priorities (a $4 billion tunnel under the East River so that Long Island Railroad commuters can ride directly to Grand Central Terminal instead of to Penn Station). But in this case, the MTA has been realistic and has attempted to address the long term benefits costs (pensions and health care) that have caused such problems at corporations like General Motors.

    If you are as dismayed with this illegal strike as I am, call Governor Pataki and let him know how you feel. Tell the governor how you have been inconvenienced by this strike, And mention Calvin Coolidge's statement in 1919 and President Reagan's tough stance in 1981 to the governor. Who knows? He could find the fortitude to emulate real leaders in a touch situation. The governor's phone number is 212-681-4580.

  2. Anonymous10:28 AM

    Bill Thompson's response to the illegal, intimidating strike by the TWU is soft, much like other politicians beholden to unions in New York will be.

    Will anyone in Sheldon Silver's State Assembly have anything to say? Maybe Brian McLaughlin can offer a few words? Would Sheldon himself say anything. The answer is no, for obvious reasons. These people are in the pockets of the union leaders, and by and large owe their positions and lulus to union blessings.

    The TWU should be destroyed. This would be an act of self defense by the citizens of New York City.

    The MTA should also be dissolved, to give responsibility back to elected leaders where it belongs. The MTA board is also more reflective of unions and special interests than the people of New York City.

    Why did Giuliani have no such strikes? Because he would have destroyed the unions, and they knew it.

  3. ps I'm having a little trouble sending comments so if I do it twice please excuse me and I apologize.