The threatened Long Island Rail Road strike is Gov. Cuomo's chance to seize the national stage. If Cuomo takes a stand against extortionate unions, he'll remind the country of Ronald Reagan standing up to air-traffic controllers three decades ago. And he'll show Washington, and the nation, what it means to be a responsible Democrat — and to care about infrastructure.
“We're preparing for a strike” as early as next month, union honcho Christopher Natale told Newsday on Friday, after walking out of a bargaining session. Officials at the state's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the railroad, “should be ashamed of themselves,” said his colleague, Anthony Simon.
What has the MTA done that's so terrible? The authority offered the 5,500 workers who belong to the commuter-rail unions 18.4 percent raises over seven years — including $22,136 apiece in back pay.
In return, the MTA wants existing workers to pay 2 percent of their pay (not including overtime) for health care, and new workers — people who don't work there yet — to pay 4 percent. The agency also wants future workers to pay 4 percent of their pay toward pension costs for their entire careers, not just the current 10 years.
The MTA is being too generous. “We are affording” this offer “at great sacrifice,” Chairman Tom Prendergast says. No — the MTA is not “affording” it.
The MTA faces a $255 million deficit in two years, even after commuter-rail tickets go up an average $118 a year in 2015 and another $122 a year in 2017.
But it's not enough; workers want a better raise. And they don't want new workers to pay more for health care and pensions. (Eventually, there will be more new workers than old ones, and the ones with the best deal don't want to be outnumbered.)
So they're bullying, even making fun of the MTA's plan to use buses to help passengers get around in a strike. The unions have made clear: For as long as they can hold the downstate economy hostage, they'll use it to grab more pay and benefits.
But why are workers at a monopoly railroad that will get $644 million this year from riders — and another billion from tax revenue — able to hold everyone hostage?
State law prohibits workers at subways and buses from striking, but not commuter-rail workers.
The answer is in Washington — and it goes back to a nearly century-old law governing railroads (not subways). Railroads back then, whether for transporting people or things, were private and profitable — and they didn't treat their workers well.
It's absurd that a law meant to give workers leverage against the 1 percent is now a dagger pointed at middle-class taxpayers.
But that's no mistake. Thirty-two years ago, then-MTA chief Dick Ravitch tried to kill the railroad unions' right to strike. He reasoned that as the LIRR was part of New York state, it should be subject to New York law, not federal law.
The case went to the Supreme Court — and the MTA lost.
Congress could fix the law. But it's more fun to buy votes when you're not the one paying.
And there's another reason: freight unions.
Freight workers still work for profitable private-sector firms, but their ranks are dwindling. As people retire, that could mean big trouble for freight workers' pensions. You need young people to pay the benefits of the old.
Except that they've got the MTA to bail them out — paying into their nationwide pension fund.
You can see it in the numbers. Louisiana is hardly a bastion of Democratic public-sector unionism. But the Pelican State has only 3,600 active railroad employees to support 7,300 retirees.
That means they need the Long Island Rail Road's 6,828 active workers, because the MTA pays not only for the railroad's 5,517 retirees but for other retirees, too. That's crazy.
Cuomo should take a strike — and every day of that strike remind voters that it's a corrupt Congress and a feckless president allowing well-paid workers to cause the equivalent of a natural disaster for hard-working commuters.
He can say that it's President Obama and Washington allowing the nation's infrastructure to decay, by forcing us to spend state infrastructure money on unaffordable union benefits.
Cuomo shouldn't worry that he'll “lose” this fight — Reagan won when he beat back bratty air-traffic controllers. Closer to home, Ed Koch won public acclaim when he said of subway workers who (illegally) struck in 1980: “We're not gonna let the bastards bring us to our knees.”
Cuomo can turn his election-year headache into a headache for Washington incumbents.
Original Source: http://nypost.com/2014/06/29/let-them-strike-cuomos-last-chance-to-be-reagan/