Over the weekend, new Metropolitan Transporta tion Authority chief Jay Walder spoke of investments in “smart card” technology so that New Yorkers can someday use their bank cards and cellphones to board trains and buses. But he may not have to wait long to use technology to be smart -- and tough -- about the intractable Transport Workers Union.
Tomorrow, the TWU will stage its first “Day of Outrage” (out of some unknown number) in a bid for higher pay and more generous benefits.
Theres nothing wrong with protesting, as union members have been doing lately outside MTA HQ on Madison Avenue. But its easy to interpret an implied threat of a work slowdown -- adding delays on countless subway and bus routes. Under state law, that would be just as illegal as a strike.
The TWU may well think it could escape penalties because management couldnt prove misbehavior. But technology can make it easier.
The TWU is being very careful not to call publicly for a slowdown -- but some signs are ominous. An early handout for the day of outrage didnt tell members to show up for anything at any particular place and time. Instead, it vaguely promised “Transit Wide Protests” to “give them a taste of hell.”
And the most recent flier barely says anything -- just calling on “all divisions, all members” to remember the date and to remember: “No contract, no peace.”
That echoes the famous “no contract, no work” slogan that the TWU employed in the 1960s as it parlayed illegal job actions into big raises, and again before the 2005 strike.
The union is protesting the MTAs effort to overturn looming 11.3 percent pay hikes (over three years) for subway and bus workers.
A panel of arbitrators awarded the raises, plus a giveback on health care. But, as the MTA rightly argues, the arbitrators failed to do their legal job -- by not properly considering whether the MTA can pay for the raises or whether the raises endanger the citys welfare by sucking hundreds of millions of dollars out of the agencys budget for physical investments.
The TWU wants Walder to drop the effort to overturn that award -- but its also looking to see if the new boss can be bullied.
Any illegal action would be a big test of Walders mettle. Will he tremble at the prospect of months of unpredictable unrest and unhappy customers -- and give in to buy, well, “peace,” and the continuation of pleasant headlines? Or is his smile of eternal optimism masking steel?
Walder could use the Day of Outrage to his advantage and the publics -- because the MTA now has the technology to track a big chunk of any TWU job action.
Thanks to massive upgrades over the past decade on the numbered subway lines (like the always crowded 4, 5 and 6), the MTA can tell within a tenth of a second if a train leaves or arrives late at each station, and by how much time.
This data, compared with the average of recent months, can be objective evidence of illegal work-slowdown action -- enough to green-light a further probe of who did what and why, line by line and train by train, and to bring the findings to a judge.
Possible penalties for illegal action include the loss of two days pay for workers -- plus the loss of the unions power to automatically withhold dues from members paychecks, a right thats vital for the unions coffers.
The TWU lost that right after the 05 strike. Later, the MTA supported the unions successful effort to recover the power -- but didnt get much for its generosity.
Taking a chance, Walder might enjoy public support for a hard line if he used evidence of a slowdown, coupled with customers anecdotal experiences, to take a clear, firm stand against TWU lawbreaking -- and in favor of overturning that arbitration award.
To succeed, hed need to patiently explain the truth about the MTAs finances -- including the fact that, long-term, controlling labor costs means more money for better technology.
Plus, more money for infrastructure investment means even better ability to manage labor in the future, as well as those “smart cards.” For example, smart technology on the rest of the subways, and GPS on buses, would mean the ability to track the whole system for slowdowns.
Of course, Walder faces the temptation to push everyone to quiet down, no matter what the cost. On top of everything else, buying labor “peace” would please Gov. Paterson, who appointed him.
Its a good thing that Walders six-year appointment and generous guaranteed pay package give him the ability to ride out the risk of short-term public anger -- and the likelihood of politicians rage -- if he has the stomach to fight for some long-term results.
If hes going to do the right thing -- and keep doing it -- he may need it.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/fight_the_outrage_zARQ3XApEYoPqjhZ9WSYVL