Transit Strike Hurt Everyone Editorial
Not the Transport Workers Union.
Not the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Not the mayor.
Not the governor.
And most certainly, not the 7 million New York City residents who use the city’s mass transportation system and who lost wages and business income and had to find other ways to get around for three horrendous days (four if you count the 50,000 people, including 10,000 schoolchildren, who were the first to be left stranded when Jamaica Bus Lines and Triboro Coach Company workers at the behest of union leaders struck 24 hours before the rest of the TWU walked out).
The state’s Taylor Law forbids strikes by public employees for a reason. The fact that labor defied provisions of the law underlines its necessity. It carries even more significance now that most of the white-collar work force can telecommute, leaving the people in low-wage, hourly jobs highly vulnerable when the buses and subways that are their only means of transportation no longer operate.
The strike was illegal and wrong. It hurt too many people. We as a society live under the rule of law. We cannot break the law, even when it might seem beneficial to do so. What’s more, breaking the law by striking so the union operating the city’s public transportation system can flex its muscles and demonstrate how important it is in the scheme of things is a morally reprehensible disgrace.
Three weeks ago in this space we implored the Transport Workers Union and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to settle their differences, asking the mayor to provide whatever assistance he could. We are disappointed that efforts to resolve the impasse before the union’s strike deadline did not succeed. The city lost some $700 million in the three days that the walkout lasted. We will carry the scars of that battle for years to come; indeed, some of the wounds may never heal.
There is right on both sides. There were 15,000 disciplinary “write-ups” issued by MTA management last year. If issued only once to only one employee at a time, that number would mean that 44.5 percent of the 33,700-person workforce had committed some infraction. There simply cannot be that many inept, malicious or malingering employees in the New York City Transit system—trains and buses would never travel their routes safely, were this the case. An infraction rate that high indicates that some management practices need immediate and rigorous review.
The TWU needs to get in touch with reality as well. Just about all private sector employers offering some sort of health benefits require a contribution from the workers covered under those plans. The co-payments and contributions the MTA would require of new hires—not of those presently employed—are not unreasonable; indeed, they are far lower than the contributions private sector employees are required to make. Raising the earliest retirement age to 62 is not unreasonable, either.
The Transport Workers Union went back to work last Thursday afternoon; meanwhile, contract talks continue. We gather that the TWU feels it has been backed into a corner by the MTA and the governor. We know, too, that the MTA and the state feel that they have made all the concessions they can and have put forth the best wage and benefit offer circumstances allow. A compromise must and will be reached. Meanwhile, we would call on the union and the MTA to use some common sense in present and future contract negotiations. Talks should not be allowed to go down to the wire and both sides must be willing to give a little. The rest of the hardworking individuals for whom public transportation is vital do not deserve to be punished because management and labor fail to reach an accord.