Unions? Strikes? What do You Think?

Someone I work with just came into the art department complaining about the impending MTA strike New Yorkers might be facing starting at midnight on Thursday.

I don’t understand how any corporation can get away with or actually take part in something that would put out millions of people. I think what they’re up to is absolutely wrong.

Me? I absolutely understand why the MTA employees are doing what they’re doing. When their employer admits to having a MASSIVE surplus this year and instead of giving it back to its employees, gives free fares to tourists, I imagine that’s pretty infuriating. (While I know this free fare idea is set in place for everyone, many of us get monthly passes via our jobs. I’ve already paid for mine. I will receive nothing free from this. So. when it comes down to it, it’s for outsiders.)

The TWU is asking a three-year contract with raises of eight percent each year. The MTA has offered a five percent raise over two years tied to concessions on sick leave, and health and pension benefits.

So, what do you think about Unions and the threat of a strike in the MTA? Do you feel they’re justified in doing so? Do you think what they’re asking is too much?

UPDATED POST can be found by clicking here. Opinions have changed.

23 Comments

  1. Am I reading that right – 8%?! Yeah, that’s a bit high in terms of raises. I’m too lazy to look up statistics, but I think on average Americans get 3-5% raises a year. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of workers didn’t get raises recently. My company didn’t give raises this year or two years ago. So our average is something like 1.5% over three years. From that perspective, yeah, 8% is high.

    However, I don’t know what MTA workers current salaries are like. Maybe they’re horribly underpaid and they are using this contract to get them up to a reasonable wage by the end of three years. If that’s the case, 8% may not be unreasonable.

    I’d be curious to know how long the union has been in negotiations with the MTA. I think the union and MTA are not doing their jobs correctly if they can’t gain agreement on a contract. Their main goal should be averting a strike and quickly coming to agreement on the contract. It’s not like the contract expiration date just suddenly snuck up on them.

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  2. I suggest a 3% raise and the rest of the surplus going to MAKING THE TRAINS WORK AND THE STATIONS NOT FILTHY!

    Oh, and hire snipers to pick off people who litter and spit.

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  3. Oh, I agree. I guess I figured that if they got that raise they might become happier and therefore clean the freaking place up a bit more. I dunno. They could really benefit from getting rid of the metal human cheese-grating turnstiles as well.

    I always figure that people become disgruntled and lazy because they’re not being treated well. Whether it be monetarily, beneficially, or whatever. But I’m probably wrong. Humans just don’t like to work, maybe.

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  4. Erica, thanks for the comment. I see everyone else is either feeling lazy, doesn’t care, or would rather lurk. (DAMN YOU LURKERS!)

    I think people are particularly angry because of what I mentioned above about the surplus. New Yorkers are pissed because we already have our MTA cards and therefore will not benefit from their free fares (I get a new card every month. It comes out of my paycheck.) So they’re mad because instead of cleaning up the subways, the cars, adding a second person again to each train (they went down to a one-man train on the L and claim to have added more men to the booths. I have yet to see this.) they’re giving it back to a bunch of tourists. The trains are constantly late now. It’s clearly gone down hill. Things have gone south over the years since I moved here back in 2000. I stand by that.

    The employees are pissed because that surplus is being given to us. (See above. “US” ends up being tourists).

    I can’t speak for everyone, but I will say this; we, the people of New York, would rather they pay their employees what they want to ensure a cleaner, safer more reliable service. Hell, if I could avoid what I wrote about in the post below, I’d be ok with a fair hike even. I hate crowded trains. Crowded trains tend to be filled with angry patrons. Not fun.

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  5. 8% over 3 years is ridiculous, but they’ve been paid crap for a while.

    It should be something like 10% yr1, 6% yr2, 4%yr 3 and balance out at 4% annually thereafter to cleanly show its to bring salaries in line—not a handout.

    People should remember that the MTA doesn’t give a shit about NYC. MTA is an albany agency and, well, albany hates NYC. I think it came out during the fare hike that 3/4 of MTA management/offices are more than 100miles from NYC. They’re all appointed by pataki, and rarely come to nyc.

    The surplus should be going into improvement: which includes more employees and making the ones they have better.

    Ironically, while the MTA is crying poverty during union talks, and planning a 1BILLION dollar surplus, they’re also talking about raising subway prices in a few months.

    Note: rates went from $1.50 > $2 because there wasn’t enough money. Then all of the multi-purchase options took a hit in benefits – several times ( i think it started at 60somehting for a monthly, then 70 – 72 – 74 now something else), and they want to raise single rides to 2.25 or 2.50

    NYC should just fucking secede from New York State. We pay the bills for the state , they treat us like shit, and then they bleed us dry. And the MTA should be a city agency.

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  6. do you think this has anything to with the writing off of tax dollars?

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  7. I haven’t read the details, but the surplus is kind of a mirage. It has something to do with heavy tax revenue this year (or something that sounds like that). Regardless… it’s like saying Social Security is still running a surplus, so why worry? The MTA will be running multi-billion deficits shortly.

    As for helping tourists – they’re actually giving free days to everyone. If you notice, your 30-day card is good for 34 days this time around.

    As for the strike – what really bothers me is the union would have the city by the balls on any strike. Hence – the illegality of them striking. I imagine many people will just stay home and businesses will suffer in terms of attendence and revenue. And these are businesses with no direct relation to the transit system. Should they suffer? Or should they just pay up more money to keep the union happy and working for now, because the alternative is disaster? Isn’t that extortion?

    Seeing their average salaries and benefits (mid-60’s for bus drivers and conductors for example) I’m very against a strike. I think it’s an example of a union having disproportionate amount of power because they affect everyone in the city, not just the employer.

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  8. Ok, so i’m a lurker, but i could write a book about how much this transit thing pisses me off.

    Aren’t raises supposed be based on merit? What incentive is there to do a better (or how about just decent?) job if you automatically get a huge raise every year, have better job security than most everyone else on the planet, better benefits, and get to retire at age 55?

    And, to say these people are underpaid (which i’ve heard a few times over the last week) is crazy. The average salary in this city is about $60k, including the fat-cats down on Wall Street. Take them out, and the average New Yorker earns about $49k. The guy who’s (supposed to be) cleaning your subway station is making ~$40k, which is the low end for transit workers. The average bus driver/subway operator makes around $63k. Don’t let the blue-collar outfits fool you. For the most part, we’re talking about the middle class. Please, if i ever burn out on my current career, can i have one of these jobs? I could do with a pension…

    All that said, the biggest deal for me is that if the strike happens, people are going to die. Ambulances, fire trucks, and police are not going to be able to navigate through the nightmarish traffic in time to save people. Someone will have a heart attack, and the extra few minutes it takes for an ambulance to arrive on the scene will be the difference between life and death. Similar things will happen with fires, or any of the other crazy things that happen in this city every day. All because they want a guaranteed giant annual raise, even more sumptuous benefits, and want to be able to retire at 55.

    Abhorrent. And yes bkgunner, it is extortion.

    I could go on my tirade about the modern union in general, but we aren’t quite talking about the Screen Actor’s Guild here…

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  9. bkgunner, my 30-day card is good for 4 days more this time but you don’t seem to understand that I will STILL be receiving a new card before the old one expires. I’m still going to pay the same amount of money on the new card. So, I guess I could sell the 4 days to some tourist and make a few bucks off it? Either way, it’s still coming out of my pocket, 4 more days or not. I do NOT benefit from this free thing at all. Those of us who receive them via our employers do not benefit at all. period.

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  10. Also, last night our xmas party took place in the same hotel as the negotiations were being held. The news was there, they were set off in a separate room. I found it humorous, as did many of the people I work for, that they spent that kind of money on renting out the room for a night. (Apparently the hotel it was held at is unbelievably expensive.) Anyway, the joke was, “They could have given a hundred people a raise for the amount the are spending on the room to hold the negotiations.”

    I’m not sure the outcome. But the news teams were eager beavers. And here I thought they were there to ask me questions… ah well.

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  11. Keith: There are two types of raises – ones for merit where you get 5-8%, and ones you get automatically to adjust for inflation – 2-4%. Most ‘large’ companies will give you a base 2-3% yearly raise as part of your compensation to work there—and the chance to have a merit based raise for x% more (up to a cap for your job classification).

    Last i heard, the giant 8% figure over the next 3 years was to bring the salaries in line with inflation adjustments that they previously haven’t. I think there were a few years with no raise and a few more with 2%.

    Regardless of other cost of living expenses—remember that rental leases in nyc go up 2-5% annually, and tend to be 25-50% of income for low-middle class new yorkers.

    The average salary in nyc is in the 50s because there are a ton of people making 15-30k a year either in service industries or starting their careers (which is fine if you’re single and young – but you just can’t raise a family on that) , and people making 300k+ on wall street.

    Salaries figures are weird though – a few years ago, my ex was making 34k a year with free health insurance and probably 16k in other benefits. i was making almost 3 times that, but had to pay for health insurance, and got no benefits. Was I making more then her? yes. did she have a better overall compensation? probably.

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  12. For those still following:

    A good article from the NYT. click here.

    33,000 employees requesting 5,000 (at most) a year for the next three years. Am I right in with that number? 8 percent, right?

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  13. Jonathan: Good points all around. I’d love to continue on with the economics of the situation. Cost of living, taxes, education costs, healthcare costs, retirement, and a ton of other things factor into the NY City economic landscape. Including transportation costs. When the subway costs $5 a ride, i’ll probably have to leave the city and move to someplace more reasonable. I don’t think i could afford to raise a family of 4 here either, but i digress… Maybe if this strike really happens, all this will be the Big Topic for further discussion.

    But, what aggrivates me most are the tactics.

    The FDNY has worked for years at a time without a collective bargaining agreement. I think they may currently have no CBA. Do they use strikes as their big tactic? Do they threaten to strike? No. At least not for a very long time. I think it’s because they care too much about the city and believe they get what they deserve at the table when threats are not their big bargaining chip. If they don’t have a CBA currently (can’t find the info right now), i hope they get a great one.

    Now, didn’t the transit folks just threaten a strike, what, 3 years ago? And that agreement was so poorly constructed that it’s totally unreasonable to renew, and it’s time to strike again? Seems to me like the union leadership is doing a bad job. They can’t seem to negotiate under normal circumstances.

    They also don’t seem to care if they cripple the city, or cause hard-working people to lose their pay because they can’t get to work. And they don’t seem to care if they make the jobs of the police department, fire department, and other necessary city service folks a nightmare.

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  14. I believe the Mayor should request the Governor to assist with the National Guard. This would double as training in the event of emergencies. The Judge should give the Union till end of Day tomorrow or put the leaders of the Union in Jail (in contempt of court). When the system is eventually running back to normal operation, then both sides should come back to the table; though if the National Guard keeps running the system for a few days, well… fire them all and start a rehire process. Then consider the privitization discussed in many Websites… see example below. At the tiny raises we’re all getting, they are ridiculously being unfair. My 2 cents worth.

    http://www.city-journal.org/html/eon_12_17_02sm.html

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  15. Michael, it’s funny you just left this comment in this thread. We have another thread (posted today) and someone else just suggested the very same thing.

    see here.

    Now, I will read the link you posted. Thanks!

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  16. mihow – thanks for the referal. Hope you found the link interesting. I thought it was quite interesting to hear the nice deal they have already in their jobs. Anyway, I was just suggesting a temporary solution of using the National Guard, not a year like the other post suggested. I don’t blame the workers, I blame the leaders of the Union whom are misleading and abusing the workers… whos’ not getting paid in all this? sure isn’t the lawyers, politicians, maybe union officials (maybe they’ll fib)? This strike is truely an example of abusive Unions. It will be interesting to see the outcome.

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  17. A subway operator begins at over $52,000K a year.

    http://www.nysun.com/article/24530

    That does not sound too little to me, considering that when I started my job at an investment bank right after college, I was making $45k a year.

    Transit workers also do not pay a cent for their health care. They are being asked to pay 2% of their current wages (which, on average works out to be just over $85 a month) which may seem high, but think about it: how much are YOU paying for your healthcare now in your jobs?

    Finally, not everyone gets their metrocards taken out of their paycheck, and personally I was furious when the fare was hiked up to $2 right on the heels of a $.25 increase to $1.50. My subway right is not worth $2 right now, and if that surplus goes to giving me free rides, I ‘m fine with it. Of course, it would be better if that surplus went towards improving the subways, but that’s another story.

    I’m guessing that transit workers are banking on our system to pardon their fines, because at this rate, a 4 day strike will cost them the entire 8% raise they are looking for.

    I love the subways, and for the most part, I do appreciate the MTA workers for running them, but I definitely don’t think they are underpaid or treated badly.

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  18. A.S. I believe you got here via Google maybe? Anyway, just wanted to let you know that there is another discussion going on here as well. Please feel free to stop by and give your two cents there as well. I want people to see it. :]

    On that post, I realized that I make LESS than these men and I work pretty hard, too. So I hear ya. I also pay much more money on Health Insurance. It’s truly frustrating. They need to get back to work.

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  19. I was all about supporting a workers strike, as I have in the past. I stayed out of grocery stores during the strikes in California, and do anything I can to support better wages for workers. Once one moves past ideology, this strike makes me a little angry. I am working on a Ph.D. and will be entering the professoriate if I am one of the lucky 58% to actually get a job at the university after completion of my degree. Most of the positions that I see advertised start at $40,000 – $45,000 for an assistant professor in the humanities or social sciences. Ok, so $40k with $150,000 in student loans doesn’t sound to appealing does it? Yes, well I chose this career because I believe that it is a job that must be done by those who care so it is my own lot. At the same time I just can’t feel so sorry for those who are making well over what I will probably ever make. They get to go home after their shift ends, and I will grade papers (sometimes I grade 10-12 hours a weekend for ONE class and I will most likely have 4 classes) endlessly, spend hours on preparation of lectures, mentor and advise students, serve on committees and be expected to research and publish in order to even receive the first tier of tenure. I worked last year as an adjunct professor at a community college and had NO BENEFITS at all. This is considered normal. I’m just wondering if MTA workers aren’t still living in the 80s mentality that still supported the dreams of many of our parents of the forever job/pension. They lived well. I am not saying that MTA workers aren’t wonderful hard-working people. I think, perhaps, that they are asking for a bit much. I just spoke to a college professor friend of mine and she said that her hands were too cold to type because she is trying to save on heating costs. Hmmmmmm.

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  20. For those of you coming here by way of google. Please see our updated post about the strike by clicking here. My opinion (like many others) has changed quite a bit over the last week. :]

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  21. I’m not living in NY right now, but I’ve been following the TWU strike. I’m generally sympathetic to the union—I agree that 8% sounds high, but my guess is that that is a bargaining position and not something they actually expect to get.

    My sympathy runs out with the demand for full retirement benefits at age 55. As physically taxing as much transit work is, I have trouble believing that it’s a hardship for a healthy, able-bodied person to work until at least 62. And I think that white-collar workers have no business even thinking about retiring with full benefits until 70.

    These 55 to 65 retirement ages are a relic of the 1930s, when health was worse and life expectancy was ten or fifteen years shorter. I don’t think anyone has a God-given right to spend the last third (or more) of their adult life playing golf.

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  22. I have nothing to add to the actual debate here, other than to advise Mihow that your 30-day card is good from the first time you swipe it, not from when your employer hands it to you. You’re losing nothing, yo. Just hold on to your new card for an extra four days. It’s your right as an American. Sell the tourists nothing. NOTHING! Bah.

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  23. Well, now, I had to swipe my card (because my other one expired) on the 15th. So what about the days that I lost during the strike?

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