Today’s Headlines

  • Larry Littlefield

    Jim Brennan wants the MTA held accoutable for sex crimes, midemeanors, and lewd behavior.

    http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/06/02/2010-06-02_pol_pushes_bill_for_public_stats_on_subway_sex_crimes_including_groping_and_lewd.html

    Or should I say, having been silent on the past decisions that are wrecking the state, decisions he voted for (like the rest), Jim Brennan somehow gets his sideshow red herring in a newspaper that would never bother to report the existance of someone running against him.

  • Larry Littlefield

    On the Brooklyn Bridge.

    “The work will largely be done at night or during off-peak hours. That will minimize traffic disruptions.”

    For those who drive to Manhattan every day, while increasing the disruption for those who use their cars for a variety of purposes on the weekend, all while inflating the cost of the work by having it done on OT.

    “The project will cost the city $286 million, with the rest coming from federal funds – including $30 million from the federal stimulus bill.”

    That’s $286 million to paint. Or should I say $11.5 million per year, forever.

  • Unless you meant your headline, “Will Pilfering of Transit Funds Ever Get as Much Media Scrutiny as MTA Salaries?,” rhetorically, it reads politically naive. Six-figure salaries for some railroad conductors, some of whom later pass GO to collect cushy disability stipends, help fuel the “MTA = bloat + corruption” mantra that makes it easier for pol’s to raid those locked transit boxes. A little livable-streets energy directed toward humanely cracking open obsolete workbook rules and rigged salary formulae might go a long way toward preserving and expanding transit funding.

  • Larry Littlefield

    My view of the $100K-plus workers, like the disability leave abuse, is that most of it is NOT in New York City Transit. It is in the suburban services.

    That has yet to be emphasized, anywhere by anyone.

  • TKO

    What’s interesting about the bridge rehab is that the former parking lot on Washington Street in DUMBO has once again become one. This time for the workers of Skanska. Looks like a lot of New Jersey folk drive to work in DUMBO rather then ride public transit by the look of the parking lot. All subsidized by us the New York and federal tax payer!

  • Perhaps “Racing Soccer Dad” won’t have to burn rubber to Prospect Park in the future: Junior will have a safe, protected bike path, and will be able to cycle to the Park instead.

  • Larry Littlefield

    AYSO: I was an AYSO referee for many years, when my kids played. And we would drive down to the games. The parking was hell.

    Then I started getting around by bicycle. Problem solved. If I knew then what I know now, AYSO soccer games are one place I never, ever would have gone to by car.

    In fact, lots of AYSO players, coaches and referees show up late because of delays with parking. A particular problem is the double demand as one set of games is ending and another starting. Often those arriving can’t park until those leaving pull out. The in and out is chaotic.

    The referee’s goal is that nobody get hurt and the game ends on time, so the next one could start. But starting the game on time was often difficult, as often there were not enough players or even a coach available on one side or the other. They were stuck parking.

  • Regarding “Spring Temps in Central Park the Warmest in Recorded History (Gothamist) ”

    From James Hansen on climateprogress.org:

    NASA: The 12-month running mean global temperature has reached a new record in 2010 — despite recent minimum of solar irradiance

    “We conclude that global temperature continued to rise rapidly in the past decade” and “there has been no reduction in the global warming trend of 0.15-0.20°C/decade that began in the late 1970s.”

    http://climateprogress.org/2010/06/03/nasa-giss-james-hansen-study-global-warming-record-hottest-year/

    The dire warnings continue.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    “Six-figure salaries for some railroad conductors, some of whom later pass GO to collect cushy disability stipends, help fuel the “MTA = bloat + corruption” mantra”.

    Soooo, does that mean there is a magic number that is simply too much for a conductor to earn? Is that number $100,000 or what? There is clearly no number low enough to satisfy the frugal minds at the Manhattan Institute. But, why are workers and their representative responsible for the further conclusions drawn by the “livable-streets energy” that concern other, more united forces in New York taking money dedicated to the MTA? Could it be that the issues regarding collective agreements affecting 67,000 employees are much more complex than the Manhattan Institute determines them to be?

    And is $100,000 all that much? What angers people, and those who have apparently taken a vow of poverty at the Manhattan Institute, is that regular workers, without graduate degrees, can make that kind of green. I think that angers Pete Donahue and many people on this blog as well. It is easier to get worked up about a guy with a high school education making enough money to send his/her kids to college and get his/her kid’s teeth fixed than it is to get upset about AIG and Goldman Sachs. Most people understand (or can convince themselves) that being a Car Repairman is really a pretty simple job, something that they could do without understanding collateralized debt obligations. It pisses off everyone who makes less than $100,000, that is a lot of piss.

    The present Tabloid/Manhattan Institute/MTA jihad against work rules is a clear statement to the unions they should forget about joint political work in Albany. That they are probably correct in that conclusion shouldn’t stop anyone from encouraging them to continue to look for allies whenever they find them, its a lifetime calling, like sisyphus.

    No one could be happier than 1199 and the Hospital Association. By the way, how much do nurses make? Is anyone angry about that? Do they get overtime after eight hours? What are their work rules? How many sick days do they get? If they made less, then the state wouldn’t have to raid the MTA money to pay the medicaid bill, no?

    Practitioners of collective bargaining generally agree that negotiating in the press is counter-productive if the goal is an agreement. If the goal is to roll the unions politically with legislation based on the force majeure of the financial meltdown then I guess it makes a little sense. If that is what is going on then it will be hard to convince many union leaders to pursue joint political projects with anyone.

    And, all the tears shed in the tabloids and blogs, based on a very superficial analysis by a right-wing “think” tank, only serve to remind the work force how few are shed when a track worker gets too close to the moving equipment, or a car maintainer grabs the wrong wire, or someone threatens and spits on a bus operator.

    And what is with the “rigged salary formulae”? These are negotiated agreements, ratified by the MTA board, sometimes by arbitration (and lately fruitless, expensive appeals by white-shoe Manhattan law firms). What kind of leap of faith do you expect workers to take that “might go a long way toward preserving and expanding transit funding”? Or it might not.

    Personally, I think the MTA is preparing the ground for a strike on the LIRR and the workers there should get prepared. And, they will use the result to club the other unions who don’t have the “obsolete workbook rules”, blaming the victim is part of the MTA workbook. That is the way the system works.

    Wages are going down nationwide and driving cleavages between groups is helpful in that regard. That is a huge part of what makes capitalism work. I can’t wait to see the worst of these rules given up, but am very suspicious of the process and where it will take us as we race to the bottom. Almost all union leaders would rather have three people making $80,000 than one making $240,000, it is much, much safer and probably better for the economy too. But they don’t do the hiring, staffing and training (yes it takes training, and there is no course in it at the New School) those are “management rights”. That is why there is all the cluck-clucking and head-scratching about laying people off AND expecting lower overtime costs.

    Don’t expect organized workers to leap into the arms of the “livable-streets energy”. The MTA is for the most part dirty dangerous work, though generally secure with regard to the two things that piss off the Manhattan Institute the most, Health and Welfare benefits and pensions. The workers trust only their unions, and its easy to see why once you sniff the class resentment in these articles.

    Answering the many mistakes in both the report and the reportage is a big mistake for the unions. Let them hate you, make sure the people you work with know they do, protect yourself, work safely. They call it an $800,000,000 deficit and thats without a capital plan, if you take the entire rule book you will still have to cut service.

  • What angers people, and those who have apparently taken a vow of poverty at the Manhattan Institute, is that regular workers, without graduate degrees, can make that kind of green. I think that angers Pete Donahue and many people on this blog as well.

    I don’t know about other people on this blog, but it definitely seems that way with Donohue and Gelinas, and it does pop up from time to time on transit blogs. I personally don’t have a problem with that; honestly, if someone can make $100K cleaning toilets, more power to ’em.

    Wages may be going down, but so are prices. My two main problems with the current TWU leadership are (1) insisting on wage increases during a period when the cost of living is static at best, and the Legislature is stealing money from the MTA and (2) “not having made up their minds” about congestion pricing; that should be a no-brainer for anyone who works for a transit agency.

  • Niccolo, the union mentality you talk about of having more, worse-paid workers is exactly the problem. NYCT has 47,000 workers. Tokyo Metro and Toei, which between them have twice NYCT’s subway ridership, have a total of 15,000. The compensation per employee at Toei is about the same as at NYCT (Tokyo Metro doesn’t provide data); the average fare at both is about the same (a bit higher at Toei, a bit lower at Tokyo Metro). It’s this labor force issue that makes NYCT a money loser and the Tokyo subway systems profitable, and not any of the smokescreens that the Manhattan Institute would like to throw.

    It’s a mistake to think that the Manhattan Institute people would want NYCT to be well-run, even by cutthroat capitalist principles. According to many American right-wingers, if government were more efficient, people would be more satisfied with it and demand more government spending. That’s why they harp on trivialities: it’s just to pretend to care about efficiency, while in reality only talking about right-wing red meat issues.

  • Niccolo — You seem to have missed my intended point, which is that the political will to maintain MTA-revenue lockboxes, and develop new ones via traffic pricing, is undermined by patterns of compensation abuse such as:

    a LIRR conductor who made $239,148 last year, according to the Times, and

    12 police officers assigned to the authority’s bridges and tunnels, some of whom earned more than double their base salaries and who collected $200,000 or more last year, also as reported by the Times, and

    an L.I.R.R. locomotive engineer, who earned about $75,000 in base salary and overtime payments of $52,000, along with $94,600 in “penalty payments,” which railroad officials said stemmed from a contractual rule that requires engineers who work in a storage yard to be paid extra if they are assigned to move a locomotive to a nearby maintenance facility or if they are asked to operate a train outside of the yard (ditto the Times).

    It is true that the Times story drew on a Manhattan Institute report, which you conveniently dismiss as a “Tabloid/Manhattan Institute/MTA jihad against work rules.” Yet you haven’t disputed any of these assertions, nor did the LIRR union, which according to the Times “did not return a call for comment.”

    The Times article comes on top of the 2008-09 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which found that “LIRR workers applied for U.S. Railroad Retirement Board occupational disability benefits at a rate 12 times higher than workers from the other commuter railroads covered under the Railroad Retirement Act,” and that these applications were virtually never rejected.

    Point fingers all you want — that’s the norm these days — but denying this pattern of compensation abuse makes it harder to assemble a majority coalition for investing traffic pricing revenues in public transportation.

  • I can’t speak for Niccolo, but I maintain that those abuses, if they’re in fact abuses rather than workers deciding to do a lot of OT, are trivial. The total OT payments listed on Ben’s blog amount to $15.5 million a year, which is an order of magnitude less than the cost of not switching to OPTO and two and half orders less than the MTA’s annual loss.

    Remember that the per-employee compensation at New York City Transit is on a par with or barely higher than compensation at profitable Japanese railroads. What is different is the number of employees the MTA uses per rider or per vehicle service-hour.

  • Alon —

    Thanks for your comment directly above, which directed me to Ben Kabak’s smart and helpful post on this topic on SAS, which I hadn’t seen.

    But did you arrive at $15.5M/yr simply by calculating the “excesses” in Ben’s five bullet points? Aren’t those just the tip of the proverbial iceberg? Nor does it get at the heart of the public-perception disaster I noted in my first comment. Pointing out other ways to save money is constructive and pertinent, but it doesn’t speak to the dug-in refusal of large numbers of people and their reps to feed what they regard as a beast that’s ripping them off.

  • Yes, I calculated the excesses in Ben’s bullet points, plus the nearby paragraphs.

    I don’t know that this $15.5 million is just the tip of the iceberg. The people at the Manhattan Institute are hacks, but they don’t lowball numbers. If they could lead with “overtime abuse costs MTA $150 million a year,” they would.

    You’re right that those allegations make people less supportive of the MTA. What I’m disagreeing with is your complaint about “denying this pattern of compensation abuse makes it harder to assemble a majority coalition.” Right-wing thinktanks don’t stop attacking just because you try to engage them in constructive conversation. You can’t defuse the Gelinases of the city by agreeing about abuse any more than you can defuse the O’Tooles by proposing investments in bus service. At most, you can expose them for the frauds they are, and that you do by pointing out elementary errors, of which the penny-wise focus on overtime is one. (The fact that profitable Japanese subways pay their workers about the same as New York City Transit is another.)

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    “You seem to have missed my intended point, which is that the political will to maintain MTA-revenue lockboxes, and develop new ones via traffic pricing, is undermined by patterns of compensation abuse”

    I didn’t miss your point, you are the math guy, you just amended it with more precision. Your first missive was just an off the cuff lament on public perception. I didn’t dispute that there were a few guys who whacked up some big time numbers. I dispute that “six figures” piece of your original post and that “six figures” constitutes abuse like you have a field on the Balanced Transportation Analyzer that lights up in red when “abuse” by a public employee is recorded. Six figures is $100,000 +. That number by itself is not abusive. Its just a number. Nor is there an extraordinary amount of total overtime worked on the MTA.

    Ben Kabak lards on a few sneers himself when he refers to a “$150,000 club”. Do you have any idea how many hours that guy has to put in to make $150,000? Assigning more people to his work is not going to satisfy you either since you have already crossed out that box on the tic tac toe board. (less wages, fewer jobs, tastes great, less filling) What you, Ben, and the Manhattan Institute want is for the guy to do the 100 hours plus work a week in forty hours. OK maybe that will happen someday, but it will take time, legislation and negotiation. OPTO would help but in the end NY is not Tokyo, Paris, London or anywhere else.

    Yes the times had all of this stuff a year ago and it is regurgitated periodically depending on what is going on in Mr. Cuomo’s campaign. But, many of the situations that even I would call abusive were situations that management has not only willingly negotiated but insisted upon over the years perhaps with now-obvious unintended consequences.

    And in the end, all the workers are doing is working the overtime. Its work. And it is MANDATORY, if they say no they can be charged with insubordination, ultimately fired. To make “six figures” you have to be there at least 70 hours a week. And the label of “pension padding” is ridiculous. The choice of language demonstrates certain predictable conclusions drawn with very little precision as to what anyone is really doing that happens to dovetail nicely with the Manhattan Institute mission.

    And, I don’t even quarrel with the Manhattan Institute, their mission is to lower the wages, hours and conditions of employment for public sector employees. It is Walder who knows better, he hired Pendergast, who was President of the LIRR when a lot of these costs were baked into the biscuits. And I quarrel with, or rather challenge, people whose thoughts I have often found useful for coalition building in future battles of political economy.

    “you haven’t disputed any of these assertions”

    Well, I can’t blame you for not having read all of my posts, I hardly read them myself, but yes I have, many times, to the point of not finding it useful to dispute them once again (wash, rinse, repeat). The canard on the disability payments is the only thing I ever saw wrong with Elana Schor’s otherwise excellent work. But it did make excellent campaign fodder for Andrew Cuomo. The only person charged on the LIRR regarding the applications for occupational disability was exonerated by the court. And, he never even applied for disability. No need to apologize, I still subscribe to the Times.

    One last time though, and it will be my last on this issue I assure you. “The Times article comes on top of the 2008-09 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which found that “LIRR workers applied for U.S. Railroad Retirement Board occupational disability benefits at a rate 12 times higher than workers from the other commuter railroads covered under the Railroad Retirement Act,” and that these applications were virtually never rejected.”

    Which may in fact show how many sick and injured people are working at the other commuter railroads because they don’t have medical coverage rather than that people not occupationally disabled on the LIRR are receiving illegitimate disability payments. Nor do they have a pension at fifty with 20 years of service. If they did, then you might have a comparison to go by. And that they weren’t rejected could mean only the disabled applied, no?

    There are two chief differences in worker’s agreements on the LIRR from all other commuter railroads in the country (including Metro North).

    1) there is the pre 1987 20/50 pension. All of the characters you think are abusing the system, or padding their pension, pulling a disability scam or whatever pejorative you and your keyboard choose are from the pre-1987 class. They are disappearing quickly from the workforce, so regardless of how collective bargaining proceeds from this point, regardless of what legislation ensues, regardless of management innovation, Mr. Walder will show progress eliminating these situations, they are in fact, yesterdays war only run up the flag pole at the moment to take advantage of the financial crisis to drive down wages and benefits among the workforce generally. The iron laws of statistics will make him look good going forward.

    2) Retiree Medical – this is my favorite part. The 20/50 has been part of the pre 1987 pension on the LIRR since its inception. But, people were not applying for occupational disabilities until recently, not that they (or their counterparts on the other railroads) wouldn’t have qualified. In 1991, in the sunset of the Mario Cuomo administration, the MTA wanted the LIRR unions to give up their Health Insurance Joint Benefit Trust and to join the NYS Empire Plan. The workers didn’t want to so a strike followed after which as a condition of the new contract the workers H&W trust was dissolved and they were forced into the Empire Plan. The Empire Plan was substantially inferior and cheaper than the Joint Benefit Trust by a few hundred dollars a month but,,,the Empire Plan had retiree medical rolled into it. Subsequently, each year, more and more workers, with bad backs, arthritis, whatever, began applying for Occupational Disability pursuant to the Railroad Retirement Boards provisions for which they have always paid 4.9% of their wages throughout their careers.

    Either way, that problem will end with the class of pre-1987 who will soon be attrited away with the passage of time. Now, had the MTA socked away the savings they made on all health plans of all the workers hired in the last 18 years and used it to fund these plans maybe there would be a different budget problem now. As it was the MTA found other uses for the money.

    So, basically, since Mario Cuomo forced the LIRR unions into the Empire Plan and traded retiree medical for reducing the health and welfare benefits of the working employees many workers availed themselves of the pension and disability than would have otherwise done so creating a neat campaign tool for his son Andrew in 2010.

    Your disability jeremiads could easily be focused on the cops and firemen as well, most of the doctors on the LIRR worked on cop cases as well but, that wouldn’t have the cache at this particular moment when the rest of the state (so as not to raise taxes in an election year) eyes the MTA “dedicated” money for their uses.

    Now to the meat of your issue and mine, “Nor does it get at the heart of the public-perception disaster I noted in my first comment.”

    Yes it is a public-perception disaster, I couldn’t agree more. I regret having ever engaged you in this discussion for that reason. Here is where Alon comes in, “According to many American right-wingers, if government were more efficient, people would be more satisfied with it and demand more government spending.” That is clearly the case. If the MTA had a more stable and productive funding stream, say congestion pricing, and if service were not being cut then the Manhattan Institute, Mr. Walder and Mr. Cuomo wouldn’t be able to scare the public with these continued horror stories that turn contracts into scams in the public eye. As stupid as a very few of these rules are, they were negotiated and are enforceable.

    Worse, they set up social dynamics that are very difficult for the unions to work out of. For example, workers hired after 1987 lived with less (though still excellent by most standards) H&W benefits throughout their whole career, and paid 4.9% for occupational disability. Only in the world according to the Manhattan Institute could they possibly be expected to give those things up without a fight.

    This is how financial crisis in capitalism is playing itself out in public sector labor relations today. Wages must go down for the economy to recover because in the end, all value comes from labor, even MTA labor. All wage labor is taking a beating either through wage and benefit cuts or layoffs. In the short term public sector unions can resist a little more but they too must and will fall. Negotiating the terms of that is all the unions can in the end do and it is an important and full time job, they will be too occupied with keeping bread on the table and braces in their member’s kids mouths to worry about congestion pricing for a while.

    I resented the “rigged salary formulae” reference too and thought when I read it, what is Charles talking about, its a contract not rigging. But what drove me to these extensive responses (generally a waste of time) was that you seem to have swallowed hook, line and sinker the entire approach of the Manhattan Institute’s obviously skewed line on labor. That the salary and pension formulas are complex does not make them “rigged”. Only if one does not recognize collective bargaining itself does it become “rigged”, and most of the bloggisti are at that point.

    These are complex issues regarding the work lives of 67,000 people, I guess I could draw some solace in that the kleig lights have moved off people spitting on the bus operators for a while and focused on the LIRR where there are a lot more of these unfortunate relationships. Maybe while everyone is focused on the LIRR some quiet progress can be made on the TA to save some jobs in the city. (I heard the collective groan “but we don’t want to save jobs”, OK save some service then).

    “nor did the LIRR union, which according to the Times “did not return a call for comment.”

    For the record, there are many unions at the LIRR, most representing contracts that do not contain these sort of clauses, those clauses are almost exclusively reserved for the “operating crafts” (Conductors-UTU and Engineers BLE-IBT). Also, for the record, since I am trying to end my contribution with this, the Car Repairmen in question are in the UTU-Carmen but actually perform the work of Road Car Inspector a much more complex and specific task. The UTU would like to be the only union at the LIRR but that is not the case, they don’t have 50%.

    Also for the record, I think the UTU made the right call. They will talk it over at the union meeting. I don’t suppose they will spend much time on congestion pricing or lockboxing MTA dedicated money.