The federal government took action last week to impose a labor deal on freight rail workers – while New York’s has its own looming labor issue on the rails. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s contract with Transport Workers Union Local 100 expires in six months, on May 15, 2023, as the authority is facing a multibillion dollar budget deficit. And given inflation, the union workers are going to want a raise.
MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber was asked about the impending contract negotiation at a Manhattan Institute breakfast at the Yale Club in Midtown Manhattan Monday morning. Right now the MTA financial projections anticipate a 2% raise, but with consumer prices up 8% over the last year, the TWU will probably be asking for more. So how will he approach the bargaining table? That’s up to the lawmakers.
“I can’t really have meaningful negotiation if the forces, the powers that be in Albany, Washington and City Hall don’t come to the table and resolve this MTA budget gap issue,” Lieber said. He’s been lobbying politicians for more revenue with some apparent success – the New York Post reported Monday that 30 state legislators signed a letter calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to bail out the MTA.
The MTA’s estimates may be underselling the deficits ahead somewhat, too. The 2% increase in worker pay is just “a placeholder for beginning of negotiation that is going to come,” Lieber explained, suggesting that the MTA won’t be holding fast to that number.
The MTA will also be focusing on worker productivity in negotiations, he said, lamenting the fact that workers are on the job fewer days a year, on average.
“People are taking more sick time, there are more workers comp episodes, the workers comp episodes go on longer. We are specifically attacking that problem, and trying to bring people back both by reforming workers comp as administered at MTA but also by working with workers who go out,” he said. Noting that each one-day increase in average worker availability is worth $17 million to the MTA budget.
TWU is ready to step up to the negotiating table too, but when it comes to the need for more funding, they’re on the same page as management. “All levels of government must step up and fund the bus and subway system – or we are going to quickly slide back into another horrible era with equipment breakdowns, delayed trips, track fires and graffiti everywhere,” read a statement from TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano. “All the investments made up to this point will have been wasted. We’ve seen this movie before, and it’s a disaster. It must be avoided at all costs.”