Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Transit Union Strikes Out

This morning, I walked to work by walking over the Brooklyn Bridge. It is indeed a beautiful bridge, and I recommend making the walk at least once in your life, but this morning's walk was hardly a scenic one, and it is so cold up here today, I think I lost a couple of toes to frostbite. I did it because New York's Transit Workers Union Local 100 thought it would be a good idea to go on strike five days before Christmas and shut down New York's entire public transit system in the process.

Why did they go on strike? I thought you'd never ask. (Click the "Read More!" link below to see the full post.) Unions in this town (like unions elsewhere) seem to think they have some sort of divine right to make exorbitant amounts of money without actually doing any work. The TWU is no exception. Most of its roughly 35,000 members have starting salaries in the vicinity of $40,000-$45,000; needless to say, their salaries can and do increase substantially. They work union hours (read: very few hours), receive sick amounts of overtime for working on weekends and holidays, and have the panoply of union protections, which basically means a phalanx of lawyers is always at the ready to fight in order to help a transit worker unworthy of employment keep his job.

The TWU has been in talks with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) for weeks now, and the issue came to a head last week with a strike deadline looming for midnight on Thursday night. The MTA was offering a reasonable salary boost -- a 6% salary increase over three years -- with some upward adjustments that future union members would make to their own health care and pension plans and a change in the retirement age from 55 to 62. They also want to make it harder for transit workers (who are notoriously poor on the customer service end) to be disciplined, or even scrutinized via disciplinary proceedings, in the wake of public or supervisor complaints.

What did the TWU want? In addition to demanding that the retirement age stay put at 55 and insisting that future workers not contribute anything more to their health care and pensions, they also wanted what amounted to a 30% salary increase over the next three years. Thirty percent! You can't make this stuff up.

After a three-day postponement of the strike and fruitless round-the-clock negotiations, the MTA put its final offer on the table and basically said, Take it or leave it. The union left it, literally -- they walked out of the hotel where negotiations were being held and back to TWU headquarters on the West Side. After letting all trains and buses already in service reach their final destinations, TWU workers walked off their jobs at about 3:00 a.m. this morning.

Why am I boring you all with New York's current transit woes? Because, in an indirect way, they affect broader debates this society needs to have about unions, health care, and retirement.

Those of you who know me know I hate unions. I despise them. I think they are corrupt organizations that have long outlived their usefulness. A century ago, I would probably have been a progressive and a union supporter, when workers were losing limbs and working 20-hour days, but it is hard to rouse sympathy for people who want a one-third salary increase and less accountability to the public. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has all but announced his intention to crush the union with heavy monetary fines under the Taylor Law (which makes it illegal for public workers to go on strike), and I could not be happier.

More broadly, the issues being brought up here may find their way into national debates about health care, pensions, and the retirement age. Like Social Security, the current transit worker retirement age is a product of a different time, when lifespans were shorter and retirement was illusory for many. Now, with people living longer -- decades longer -- than they used to, there is no real-world reason why a public employee, drawing a salary from citizen tax dollars, should get full retirement at what is essentially middle age. I hope the MTA does not give in on this point. I would rather they cave on salary and stick to the age requirement (although the MTA has given no indication of yielding on anything).

And this health care and pension nonsense. I cannot believe we are even seriously debating whether or not workers should contribute more substantially to their own health care and pensions. The answer: Of course they should. The socialist mentality that has co-opted all levels of government in the last half century needs to go. There are no more limitless coffers (as if there ever were). More people need to pay more of their own way. Cities, states, and the federal government simply cannot pay for everything for everybody. Expecting public employees to make contributions to programs that provide for their well being is a simple and reasonable start to curbing out-of-control governmental expenditures.

Finally, if the TWU thinks it is making any friends by striking during the week before Christmas -- where people need to get to work or out of town, or when retailers do their best last-minute business for the Christmas shopping season -- they are sorely mistaken. New Yorkers are furious, are with the mayor in his implied pledge to make the union pay, and have long, long memories.

May they all get lumps of coal in their stockings.


Update: A plethora of updates, all of which bode well for a defeat of the union thugs pushing this strike:

- The Transit Workers Union International spanked Roger Toussaint, the barely literate moron running the TWU Local 100, and essentially withdrew support of both Toussaint specifically and the strike generally.

- According to an MTA spokesman, some transit workers crossed the picket line and returned to work, recognizing that their duty is to the people of New York rather than socialist union bosses. (Each and every one of the people who did return to work should be awarded a commendation by the mayor and given raises and promotions.)

- The TWU Local 100 also knows it is losing the invaluable public relations battle, which is why it removed the comments field (which, by the way, was filled with overwhelmingly hostile comments) from its propagandistic blog (hosted by our very own Blogger).

Hat tip to Rail Ravings.

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