Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The looming New York City transit strike

At 12:01 a.m. on Friday morning, if the Transit Workers' Union doesn't have a contract, they could very well strike. This will affect the subways and buses all over the city, leaving people stranded. Such a strike could cost New York City a staggering $200 million a day in lost economic output. This Post article details Mayor Bloomberg's recommendations to survive.

I wouldn't try to stay at a friend's place in the city. I'd still commute in as usual by the Metro-North Railroad, which will end at the Mount Vernon West station (Mount Vernon is in the very south of Westchester, just north of the Bronx). From there, shuttles will take people downtown. There will be long, long lines for certain, and extremely long delays, maybe like at the end of June when I was stranded because of flooded tracks.

It's illegal under state law for transit workers to strike, but they've done it before, in April 1980, when they walked out for 11 days. This time, they might not even formally strike. They'll simply use underhanded tactics mixed with lies and deceit to slow service to a crawl.

And why are the transit workers going to strike? They're being offered "only" a 3% raise for this coming year, and 2% for the year after that. "Only"? The transit workers sound as spoiled as my sister and I were when very young. One Christmas morning, after we littered the living room with enough toys to supply a Toys for Tots drive, my sister said, "Oh, so very little." We were so spoiled rotten and didn't fathom how others didn't have what we did. Similarly, the transit workers demand an 8% pay raise, not realizing or not acknowledging that some people go without raises for a couple of years.

But the transit workers insist their raises are justified, because the MTA has a $1 billion surplus they claim they're entitled to share in. Notwithstanding the money should properly be rebated to state taxpayers (who heavily subsidize the MTA), or that the surplus is needed to offset planned fare hikes in the near future, just because a company is extremely profitable doesn't mean profits are distributed among employees. Company profits go to the owners, which in a public company are the shareholders. Unless the employees themselves are shareholders, there's no reason for them to expect to share in increased profits. Did the employees put up the capital to start the business? Are they heavily involved in management decisions? Are the employees taking any serious risks as to the business' success?

If the transit workers feel they should be paid more, they need to remember what determines how much you "deserve" in pay: only what your employer thinks you are worth. When it comes down to it, you are worth only as much as the next guy who is willing to take your job. If he's willing to do your job, and do it just as well, for $x while you want $x+1, then your job is worth only $x in pay. Transit workers say that they deserve higher pay because they transport several million people a day, but did I miss the heroism involved with that? I can't see how just doing their jobs deserves an 8% raise that most people never see in just a year.

A big controversy is that the city has identified a few subway lines where only one conductor is needed. But, of course, the union leaders don't want job cuts. They don't give a damn about efficiency, because they can always milk the people either through city taxes or fare hikes. They only care about getting the city to hire and keep as many workers as possible. In 1999, the transit workers numbered about 33,000. Today, there are about 38,000 of them. That's an 8.6% growth in just six years, even with advances that inevitably substitute technology for human labor.

The most union members possible maximizes dues revenue, and dues revenue is what pays the self-annointed union bosses' ridiculously bloated salaries. That Post article said, "Watt defended the union by stressing that he and Toussaint helped curb spending abuses in Local 100 and cut top officers' salaries by $25,000." Helped curb? How about helped eliminate? How about cutting the salaries by even more, considering that $25,000 still leaves a lot of fat on the TWU president and treasurer's $200,000+ salaries?

The whole problem with government-employed union labor is that it's predicated on the mythical "right to work." There is no right to work, because you do not have the right to force someone to use his property to employ you. On the other hand, someone has the right to employ you, then cease employing you if you don't show up for work. However, many municipalities stupidly surrender that right when they agree to contracts with the local unions. Until civic leaders wise up and hone their negotiating skills, the unions will have a disproportionately greater influence in elections, on politicians, and on the necessary level of taxes.

My solution: if the transit workers strike, fire them, and without unemployment insurance benefits. Let the workers know that if they give up their jobs, which carry a sacred (at least in New York) trust to transport the public, they're done. If they lose their homes, so be it. Don't cry for them. Cry for the regular folks who lost their homes, or had to cut back on various expenses, because a transit strike meant they couldn't make it to work for a week.

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