Saturday, December 17, 2005

The sword of Damocles...

It seems increasingly likely that Tuesday morning will bring a transit strike. Then again, there are still 53 hours left, which is a long time in union negotiations. If there is any kind of break through, it is likely that they will stop the clock. At the same time, this is the third (?) day in row that talks have stalled. Not promising.

The title refers not to the strike hanging over the heads of every commuter in the city, but to the fact that it is at times like these (my politics left aside) that I am incredibly grateful that I am not the president, not the mayor, not the head of the MTA, not the head of the TWU or the UFT, not the chancellor, not anyone who has to make decisions regarding the lives of thousands or millions of people. Can you imagine being Roger Toussaint (the head of the TWU) right now? As a teacher, I know a little about the position he is in: when you have power and you believe you are right, you have to be willing to back up your words with action. Yet, if he calls a strike, not only will millions of people have trouble getting to work, but the city will lose millions of dollars, his union could be fined millions of dollars, and individual strikers could lose several days' pay, face large fines, and be jailed. And similar impossible choices face the head of the MTA, who also has immense power, who also believes he is right, and likewise must back up his power with action, who, by doing so, pushes the city to the brink of a strike and all that it brings...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Transit Workers know the consequences. They are willing to stand for something much like the way you are willing to put in the extra hours for your students.

Do New Yorkers want a strike? NO
Do the TransitWorkers want to strike? No
But will they if they have too? YES, because they believe in their cause.

The UFT has called for us to rally on Monday with the transit workers
(See Edwize). Interesting.

7:19 PM  
Blogger ms. frizzle said...

Hey, just because the transit workers know the stakes doesn't mean it's an easy decision to make. And while they seem like a more united union than the UFT, I doubt that they are all enthusiastic about the possible consequences, even if they are willing to do what they are asked to in support of their union & what it is standing for.

8:24 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

Today's NY Post complained that the major concession being asked for, raising the retirement age by 7 years, will not affect the current Transit Workers. The missing conclusion: why should current transit workers care about what happens to future transit workers?

I know. The Post thinks that we should act in terms of narrow personal self-interest, and Toussaint or his membership or his excutive board do not agree.

A strike would be awful for everyone: workers and riders. But there is a sense of evil in the MTA asking today's workers to vote away the rights of future workers, and a sense of justice in the TWU's resistance. Notice, they are asking for no contract improvements, save money.

If there needs to be a strike, let it be so hugely successful that the MTA is forced to quickly back down.


9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like I said, do they WANT to strike? NO

They have also been without a contract and are smart enough not to ask for fact-finding. These workers grew up on the streets and know what it means to stand up for something that will effect them personally and financially. Now the mayor is bullying working class people--what a guy!

Of course this is not an easy decision to make. But if that's their decision, I will back them with a donation if they are made to suffer the consequences.

8:16 AM  
Blogger NYC Educator said...

It's unconscionable that the transit workers, in light of a billion dollar surplus, are being asked to take 3% a year and pension givebacks. I've been watching contract negotiations for a long time, and I've heard the song about "Sorry, but we have no money" more times than I can remember.

And what do they do? They give a discount to the riders for Christmas and screw the workers. It's transparent and cynical.

Why, in good times, are workers asked to give back and take less than cost of living? And when are we gonna get a press corps that's not perptually asleep?

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An excerpt from today's Daily News:

The great and growing disconnect between white-collar and blue-collar workers in our town makes it hard for office workers to see, understand or respect what is at stake in this labor standoff. Few riders know, for instance, that transit workers have to ask for a day off 30 days in advance. Back in October, in an annual ritual, some MTA workers slept on cots in bus depots so they could be first on line the next morning to ask for permission to take Thanksgiving off.

Such accumulated humiliations fuel much of the fury leading up to Tuesday's threatened strike. Train operators complain about the fear of driving through tunnels filled with debris; female workers recently went public with descriptions of the rusted, filthy, freezing bathrooms provided for them...

Several riders stopped to ask about the strike, and Hoyt (a transit worker) - long before the news hit the airwaves - predicted the trains would stop running Tuesday. "The executive board of the union is not going to give in. I hope they don't."

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Chaz said...

Ms. Frizzle:

The final TWU contract will be the basis of all our contracts in 2006-2007. That is why all the major unions, save DC37, are supporting the TWU.

Remember, it was the TWU who accepted the $1,000 dollar bonus the first year (when the MTA said they were broke) which the city gave to DC37 and that set our pattern. If the TWU gives in on health and pension givebacks, our next contract will have them too.

Best to have TWU to go on strike then to have DC37 set the pattern for us.

6:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, there is no "surplus" at the MTA.

Does no one know where the money comes from?

Fares collected from riders account for about two-thirds of the revenue collected by the MTA.

The other third comes from state and federal SUBSIDIES.

If there were actually a "surplus" the system wouldn't receive a dime of taxpayer funding. But the system receives one-third of its revenue from the government.

If Pataki were brave, he'd channel Ronald Reagan during the PATCO air traffic controllers strike and fire all the transit workers for conducting an illegal strike. It would take about a week to replace all of them. And let's face it, running a subway train doesn't require more than a few minute's training, as the we know because of the teenager who has repeated slipped into the motorman's seat and driven trains around the city.

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was it Reagan's idea to keep 2 sets of books too?

Yes Virginia, there is a surplus.

6:15 PM  
Blogger NYC Educator said...

According to the NY Times, there is. And anyone who'd deny that the MTA pleaded poverty with its workers in the past is a very poor student of history.

"It was a figure that just seemed to keep growing: $76 million in February, $833 million in July, $928 million in October and finally, as of last month, $1.04 billion.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, perpetually hat in hand, has one of the largest surpluses in its 37-year history."

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leave it to the dissemblers to put their faith in a newspaper rather than look at a few simple FACTS.

As I stated, about two-thirds of the MTA revenue derives from fares collected from riders. The other third is handed over by the state and federal government.

Can you do any better than to say "well the NY Times says there's a surplus. So there!"

I'd love to read about a government-subsidized department that operates so efficiently that it's actually profitable -- profitable as in net income.

If it were profitable, as a surplus would suggest, there'd be no need for subsidies amounting to one-third of revenue.

9:28 PM  
Blogger NYC Educator said...

You're absolutely right.

Why rely on the New York Times rather than anonymous strangers on the internet?

Your case is iron-clad.

10:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nyc educator, as usual, you dodge the issue.

I would never suggest you take my word without some credible corroboration.

See for yourself where MTA revenue is derived. Maybe then you will realize that a surplus cannot exist if a government entity must depend of taxpayers to provide one-third of its top line -- revenue.

11:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For anyone who cares to deal in facts, a trip to the MTA website will open some eyes.

The MTA's latest annual report is available online. It covers 2004, and, as annual reports do, presented financial statements for 2004 and 2003.

In short, revenue collected from riders was about $4.8 billion. Revenue derived from various subsidies and taxes was $3.4 billion. Thus, total revenue was about $8.2 billion.

As you can see, a huge percentage of "revenue" comes from the pockets of taxpayers.

Meanwhile, direct operating expenses were $8.0 billion. And indirect expenses -- mainly debt service -- totaled $0.9 billion.

Thus total revenue = $8.2 billion

But total expenses = $8.9 billion

No matter how you look at the MTA financial statements, there is no surplus.

6:36 AM  
Anonymous Chaz said...


Did you know that the MTA has 2 sets of books and were caught with them? They should have been sent to jail. How do we know their future budgets are real? Would you trust a bank robber to watch your house when you go on vacation? I think not.

Interestingly, the NYC budget surplus has grown to 2.88 billion. Last year it was projected to be 1.2 billion and two years ago it was a projected defict of 200 million? How can anybody be so naive to believe these ever-changing budgets?

The TWU contract is the pattern for the next series of municipal contracts and if they agree to a Tier V pension for their newborn, so will all the municipal unions. The reason teachers have trouble organizing is the split between the Tier I and Tier IV teachers. No way can we approve an inferior Tier for the next generation.

By the way, why do you go by anonymous?

6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Every business has two or three sets of books. One set is for tax reporting, one is for financial reporting -- these functions are different -- and one set is for investors.

Unless you actually know something about accounting, you would think this arrangement is deceptive. It is not. But reporters looking for stories don't understand accounting and therefore characterize standard accounting procedures in a negative manner.

7:04 AM  

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