A WIN IN NEW YORK

Had a great weekend in New York, and got to see several friends (including this one) in various parts of the city, thanks in no small part to the hard work of the MTA employees who make the subway run every day. My sense is that Steven Greenhouse is largely right in his assessment that the deal represents a real victory for the Transport Workers’ Union. The biggest concession made by the union, its agreement to have workers pay a small portion of healthcare costss, is a real and unfortunate one. But it managed to hold the line on pensions and dramatically retroactively improve the the pensions of many workers while winning maternity leave and an MLK Day holiday. And the union routed the MTA on the issue likely to have the greatest long-term significance: the MTA’s bid to create a two-tiered workforce by convincing current workers to sell out the men and women who will do their jobs in the future by consigning them to inferior contracts.

That transit workers were derided as selfish for striking to protect the benefits of future workers is one of the bitter ironies of this strike (there are others, like the absence from the press of mention that the MTA’s insistence on pension concessions was as illegal as the union’s strike). But evaluating the nobility of choices based on whether they are in the self-interest of those who take them is a bankrupt approach anyway. These workers made the difficult choice to strike their jobs and picket in the face of freezing weather and hostile media to secure better livelihoods for themselves and their current and future co-workers. And then they went back to work at a job few of the perpetually aghast conservatives heaping racialized insults on them could imagine doing.

It’s a shame it had to come to a strike. This contract could have been signed a month ago if George Pataki had wanted it. The last minute worsening of the MTA’s contract suggests that what he wanted is a strike, and he got it. In terms of public opinion, however, things didn’t quite go the way he planned.

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One thought on “A WIN IN NEW YORK

  1. You’re off base here, Josh. The deal is a “real victory” inasmuch as it’s an improvement over the current deal. But the union’s unreasonable demands, which due to Roger Toussaint’s stupdily stubborn behavior, should never have been made in the first place. The transit workers are already one of the most lucrative professions in New York, most of which require very little actual labor. To demand on top of that an 8% wage yearly raise and a LOWERING of the retirement age to 50 is preposterous.

    Perhaps Greenhouse responds to this (sadly, I no longer read the NYT because TimesSelect is the worst idea since crystal meth). But looking at it from the facial numbers, Toussaint is claiming victory with:

    — a 10% wage increase over 3 years (essentially the MTA’s final offer before the strike),
    — no change in the retirement age (a moot point, since the MTA wanted to raise the retirement age, which is reasonable given that 55 is (1) young for retirement to begin with and (2) getting relatively younger as people live longer), and
    — in the end agreeing to a 1.5% contribution to pension funds.

    That means Toussaint essentially went with what was on the table BEFORE the strike. Why strike then?

    Also, when you say “..evaluating the nobility of choices based on whether they are in the self-interest of those who take them is a bankrupt approach,” you argue that somehow the striking workers were doing this for their fellow, not-yet-employed man. I say bullshit. The reason transit workers were derided was because they were falsely claiming to be acting to protect future workers, when they were really striking because of an ego-maniac leading the charge.

    Finally, you’re wrong about public opinion, and maybe that’s because you’re still in college, don’t associate and don’t live in New York. The day the strike was lifted, Reuters reported a 55-to-38 split against/for the strike. Now, several weeks later, it is a safe bet that the only thing people are going to remember is that the union chose to strike during the holidays for what looked like ridiculous demands. Those demands looked particlarly egregious in the eyes of those worst affected by the strike, those people who statistically speaking were (and are) in a worse socioeconomic demographic than the union members themselves. It IS a shame this had to come to a strike, because the next time a New York union makes reasonable demands that aren’t being met, they’re going to have to fight the stigma left behind by this most unreasonable strike.

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