The Transport Workers Union, which represents subway and bus workers, is going all-out to elect Bill Thompson and oust Mayor Bloomberg. Voters should worry that, if the TWU helps the comptroller move up, New Yorks transit system could wind up paying a steep price.
The union wants something very specific -- the 11.3 percent raise over three years that a state panel of arbitrators approved this summer. The MTA is suing to overturn the hefty award, claiming (correctly) that the arbitrators failed to properly consider whether the MTA could pay for the deal.
The TWU has mounted a series of “no contract, no peace” protests to scare politicians and the MTA into dropping the suit. A planned highlight is Oct. 14, the “day of rage” in which workers, through vaguely described “transit-wide” action, may illegally slow service.
Since Bloomberg supports the MTA in the dispute, the union is fixated on the mayoral race. And Thompson seems happy to have the TWUs help.
He was one of several thousand attending the unions rally in Midtown last week. And a month ago he marched “arm-in-arm” with outgoing TWU chief Roger Toussaint and Gov. Paterson “the entire length” of Brooklyns huge West Indian Parade. (The quotes are the TWUs account, complete with photos, on its Web site. Interestingly, it hid the story behind a password after I posted it at nyfiscalwatch.com last week.)
Thompsons campaign doesnt highlight his TWU appearances. But the public should know what hes telling those crowds.
At last weeks rally, Thompson departed from his usual mild-manneredness to shout to the roaring TWU crowd: “Binding arbitration -- what about that do people not understand?”
He thundered that transit workers have “been lied to by the MTA and Mike Bloomberg,” and are stuck with bosses who “always want to play by their own rules . . . to suit themselves.” More, he shouted: The MTA should “pay up or shut up.”
Note that Thompson focused on process. The arbitration, he loosely argued, was binding, so the MTA should stick with it.
Set aside the legalisms: Would Thompson, in this ailing economy, have supported raises that will eventually cost the MTA $300 million a year, at the expense of the authoritys investment in vital projects like the 2nd Avenue subway and new buses?
Does he think that the MTA ever needs the TWU to pay more for union workers own pension and health benefits, which will soon cost $2.7 billion a year -- money that also must come out of its capital investments?
And does Thompson support the TWUs Oct. 14 “day of outrage” -- even if the unions stated goal of giving “them” a “taste of hell” turns out to mean illegal service slowdowns, as past efforts have?
Yesterday, Thompsons campaign office didnt respond to questions on these fronts.
But this is stuff Thompson should have addressed as comptroller, because the MTAs labor costs harm the citys economy -- just like the bloated costs of General Motors and other automakers crippled the US auto industry.
In his official capacity, Thompson has been quiet -- yesterday, his office ducked questions on the comptrollers view of the contract deal as it relates to city taxpayers.
And what Comptroller Thompson has said should worry voters and straphangers.
Three weeks ago, he wrote to incoming MTA chief Jay Walder to direct Walders “swift attention” to the fact that the MTAs next $30 billion capital program faces a $10 billion budget hole.
But Walder can see that the MTA cant afford to keep the system in good shape. What he needs is pressure to hold the line on labor costs, which are the culprit here -- but Thompsons letter didnt touch the issue.
Indeed, Thompsons support for the TWU is offering Walder (who started work yesterday) cover to give in to whats likely a huge temptation -- to kill the lawsuit himself, and buy a honeymoon of labor peace.
Plus, Thompsons letter was inconsistent with what he had said a few weeks before that -- when he suggested that the MTA spend some of its $1.1 billion in federal stimulus to keep token booths open. Yes, the MTA should keep the booths open -- but it ought to get the money by cutting its overall labor costs, not by sacrificing more of its already-shrinking capital funds.
OK, Bloomberg hasnt been great on transit. The TWU should thank him for the recent contract award -- since the similar raises the mayor negotiated for the city workforce pushed the MTA and the arbitrators in the same direction.
But if Thompson wins, hell owe a huge debt to the TWU for its passionate support.
Weve already seen bad results when a politician feels dependant on the union: Witness Gov. Patersons personal orchestration of the hefty wage offers that sent the MTA into arbitration at a disadvantage in the first place.
As the citys fiscal watchdog and its would-be next mayor, Thompson should have said that he cant support ever-rising labor costs that will throw the subway system into a worse physical state.
New Yorkers need politicians who pressure the MTA to do the right thing -- not people who recklessly urge it to give its workers “Cadillac” pay and benefits at the price of letting the subways decay.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/thompson_loves_the_twu_8nHlLVbHjwVrqVLFEmgPcM