If you were a regular blogger on the official Dean blog during the 2004 primary season, the name Subway Serenade might be familiar to you. (If it’s not, you can see his bio on the Meet the Blog Family pages.) Recently, he has written weekly posts for Howard-Empowered People, and this week he shares his thoughts on the New York City transit strike with us.
by Subway Serenade

I followed the negotiations for six, three year transit union contracts since I entered the subway stage. Six contracts ago, the Union, TWU 100 was essentially a rubber stamp for the Metropolitan Transit Authority and was universally resented by the rank and file. They felt that the Union management was as out of touch with reality and had no use for any input from it’s membership.

During this time the MTA became a bloated beauracracy. Where there once was a manager for every 25 or so workers in previous decades, that number had declined to 12 or less. Mta developed a Station Manager program during this time. In Union speak they were called “Level Twos” and were commonly seen as $68,000 a year walking clipboards that went around writing up the slightest infraction, with some going so far as to consider the three or four stations under their control as their own fiefdoms.

It was a long running joke that the MTA could fire 1/3 of it’s management and the system wouldn’t even blink. That bloat remains to this day.

When NYC introduced the Metrocard automated fare system, service rose to 50% above pre-card levels, and continues to increase modestly every year. However, increases in wages and benefits have not kept pace with inflation.

Three contracts ago, a good union man named Roger Toussaint led a revolt against TWU 100. In my opinion, his upstart rank and file campaign very closely resembles Howard Dean’s Presidential bid. He brought the Union to within a hair’s breath of a strike that destroyed the credibility of the Union leadership. Toussaint was elected President by a wide margin shortly thereafter.

You may be hearing shrill talk to the effect of “Even the national TWU doesn’t support the strike. I’ll tell you all right now that the TWU did everything it could to defeat Toussaint. They have behaved in pretty much the same manner as the relationship of the DLC and Dean.

In my opinion, this strike comes down to two insults.

Bringing NYC Transit back after 9/11 was a herculean effort on the part of the Union. Every station underneath Ground Zero was rebuilt in under 2 years. Nearly every line was operational within days. For months, every station south of 14th St was thick from the dust and ash from the towers. The Union never wavered. Many of them can now be counted among the walking dead of 9/11.

At this time, the Union, under Toussaint, agreed to a belt tightening contract for the good of the city. Near the end of the negotiations, the TA announced that it was spending $750,000,000 on new (and really unneeded) executive office space. This was really egg on the face of Toussaint.

The second insult, was that due largely to productivity increases, this year, the TA ran a budget surplus of over $1 billion. It then offered 3% annual raises in exchange for Union givebacks in health care and pensions. It doesn’t take a street musician to see that offer was a slap in the face.

As it stands now, the matter has gone to a mediator, and binding arbitration will begin shortly. Hopefully this will be over soon.

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