Tuesday, December 20, 2005

F'ing Transit Strike!

A Holiday transit strike, a fate that New York last avoided three years ago, is currently on.

Some people might think me a hypocrite for criticizing the hard-working men and women of the TWU while I'm usually fairly friendly to whatever another union, the Major League Baseball Players Association, does.

The issue is context. Major League Baseball, while one of my favorite things in the world, is not necessary. If it goes dark because people are arguing over money, no one's going to die; a relatively small number of support people are going to lose their job. That's big if you're one of those people, but not that big in the big picture.

A transit strike, in New York City, at Christmas, will have a broad and devastating effect, particularly in the short term. Businesses are counting on mass transit to bring shoppers to them. This is the week that many retailers get in the black, for the year, and that's a bit less likely to happen now. People count on mass transit to bring them to the doctor's office, to enable them to get to work. That's why strikes by transit workers (and cops, and firefighters, for that matter) are illegal in New York.

When he announced the strike, last night while most of us were sleeping, TWU President Roger Toussaint hit his points. He mentioned the Metropolitan Transit Authority's surplus for this year, reportedly a billion dollars or more, repeatedly. He declared that the TWU wasn't simply taking a stand for themselves, but for all the workers out there who are watching the "erosion" of pension, retirement, and health benefits. Toussaint asked the riders to "stand by" the TWU, as he claimed the TWU had stood by riders "to keep token booths open, to keep conductors on the train, to oppose fare hikes."

I don't remember that last part happening, but the first two were more matters of self-interest to Mr. Toussaint's union than altruistic acts for the benefit of the ridership.

Still, I'd be much more likely to have sympathy for the TWU if they were striking in June, rather than when the weather is in the 20's (that's farenheit, yo). Had they simply held out until next week, it would have been a true sign they give a damn about the saps who ride the rails and roads with them.

A transit strike hurts the MTA any day of the year. It hurts the city and the state at any time. However, striking right now, is calculated to hurt New Yorkers--the everyday rider--most.

So sadly, I'm wishing only the worst on Roger and his union right now. May a judge fine them twice their salary per day they strike, and their leaders a few million dollars a day. And should, heaven forbid, anyone die or be hurt, or permanently lose their jobs because of this strike, I hope they sue the illegally-striking union.


Anonymous said...

Sorry Derek, but when was the last time someone took the subway or a bus to the hospital? With mandatory car pooling, traffic was significantly down in upper Manhattan this morning as I walked to work. Your argument that the TWU strike endangers lives simply doesn't stand up to any scrutiny.

Both the TWU and the MTA are equally at fault in this strike. Both sides knew that this day was coming for months and they pissed away valuable negotiating time posturing about respect and fiscal responsibility. Maybe if the MTA hadn't given riders that useless $1 discount for the holiday shopping season, the TWU wouldn't feel they were a) being lied to and b) like a strike was their best strategic move. Seriously, that was a bonehead move that didn't make a real difference in my pocket.

One strike in 25 years is hardly the economic disaster you make it out to be, and since it was entirely preventable, I don't see why the MTA doesn't deserve the same anger you direct at the workers.

Let's hope this ends soon.
AG, Bronx

DJ said...


Most people don't get to the hospital by ambulance, and I've seen some stats suggesting that those that get there on their own have a far better outlook than those that had to be brought by ambulance (probably because those that take the ambulance have waited until their health problems have reached the point of crisis).

Now, for most people (at least those who can afford it) that means going to the hospital in a cab. Getting a cab to take you where you want to go is a bit of a challenge right now. Maybe there was less congestion uptown, but in midtown, around 11:30 or so, traffic was sluggish as waves of taxis, dollar vans and livery cars felt the need to slow at each bus stop, lest they risk missing out on a passenger. For those that can't afford the $10 one-zone fare, they're SOL--at the mercy of strangers, hitchhiking or walking.

It's not like I was predicting the breakdown of society, or anything, but there will be consequences from this strike. A transit strike is kind of like a blizzard--it slows everything down and puts stress on the system, rather than causing widespread calamity. Every time there's a blizzard, you'll hear about a few people that died because things suddenly got just a little more difficult--you get slower emergency response times, sick people become reluctant to leave the house, things like that. That's what I expect here.

As for the economic effects, I'll admit that I have no way of quantifying them, and I'm dubious of some of the numbers that Mike Bloomberg has floated. Still, it doesn't have to lead to the next depression to be unacceptable, just as you don't have to have massive loss of life for it to be unacceptable.

One thing that really didn't come out in my piece is that I'm shocked to find that I have any common ground with the MTA. Generally speaking, it's a untrustworthy organization, with more than a whiff of shady accounting practices. The "holiday discounts" were pathetic, coming from an agency that continuously cries poverty and talks about the need to raise fares. You're perfectly right that it does take two to tango, and the MTA is just as culpable in the current impasse as the union.

The reason I'm angrier at the TWU is because 1) the timing of a strike is completely in their hands and 2) Toussaint had the brass cojones to make that "you stand by us like we stood by you" appeal.

To take the last one first, Roger's idea of standing by someone seems to actually be standing behind them, and bending them over the bargaining table. I wouldn't really mind him doing that to the MTA, but screwing the public as viciously as possible, while simultaneously asking for their support and sympathy is pretty disgusting.

If there's any legitimate reason the TWU needs to strike now, they've abjectly failed to articulate it. They could submit themselves to arbitration, or continue to negotiate under the expired contract. If you're who I think you are, I don't need to tell you anything about municipal unions working for extended periods of time without a contract--but the TWU goes less than one week without a contract, and they're "forced" to strike? It's hogwash.

Despite the adversarial tone, I'm really happy to see you writing in, and I also hope this is over soon.