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New York Post


Taylored for the Unions

May 21, 2012

By Nicole Gelinas

Law favors MTA giveaways

Last week, a set of arbitrators gave a small MTA union, covering Staten Island and Queens bus workers, the same generous contract that a different arbitration panel awarded to the Transport Workers Union three years ago. It’s a bad sign for the MTA’s future—including its near future, because the TWU contract is up again.

At the heart of the problem is a gaping flaw in the state’s supposedly tough Taylor Law—namely, the way it forces the MTA into binding arbitration.

New Yorkers don’t hear much about the 45-year-old Taylor Law unless transit workers are threatening to strike.

But the law does much more than prohibit public workers from striking or threatening to strike, more even than imposing penalties for illegal strikes.

It also orders that, when public unions and their employers can’t agree on contracts, "disputes over wages and other contract clauses shall be submitted to impartial recommendations so that government workers will not be shortchanged by administrators chronically lacking funds."

A state panel, the Public Employment Relations Board, makes those recommendations. And, for the MTA, the law directs that these "recommendations" are binding—so, even if arbitrators devise a horrible deal, taxpayers are stuck.

Lately, the deals have been bad—and it could get worse.

Nearly three years ago, PERB arbitrators decreed that workers at the TWU, the MTA’s biggest union, should get raises of 11.5 percent over three years, with a decrease in how much they pay toward health care. The cost is $272 million a year.

Now, three years later, a different PERB panel has done it again, saying it was just following its predecessors’ TWU precedent.

The arbitrators said the award hinged on one thing: "ability to pay." That’s because the Taylor Law directs arbitrators to consider "the impact of the panel’s award on the financial ability of the public employer to pay."

On May 12, the arbitrators said the MTA could pay, ignoring the agency’s arguments that such payment would force it to eat into capital spending—that is, the outlays needed to keep the system getting better, rather than deteriorating.

Arbitration panels are supposed to be completely fair—one person representing the public, one for the employer and one for the union. But in these two cases, the "independent" panelist sided with the union.

The risk here is obvious: If an expired TWU contract goes to arbitration, the results could cost another $300 million a year—at a time when the MTA still faces deficits plus no good way to fund capital investment.

You might think such factors would indicate an inability to pay. But the MTA has been asserting that it has largely fixed its capital problem; even though critics (like me) have warned that this "solution" consists of massive borrowing, the claim could easily work against it.

Plus, the PERB arbitrators are creative. In the latest case, the majority endorsed union shill James Parrott’s suggestion that the MTA can easily afford raises—because it can exploit public anger at banks to get out of some financial contracts that are losing it money. That’s right: The arbitrators thought it was just fine for the MTA to break other contracts to fund pay rises in the labor contract.

This system is convenient for politicians. Gov. Cuomo is one degree of separation away from voter accountability via the MTA itself—and two degrees away when the MTA goes to arbitrators.

Sure, there’s a chance arbitrators would do the right thing on the next MTA contract—but under that reasoning, we should hire unaccountable panelists to decree all big decisions. Why have governors?

Cuomo would never go as far as Wisconsin’s governor did—taking away some of workers’ rights to bargain (and New York voters wouldn’t like it, anyway). But he should ask for a change in the Taylor Law to do away with "binding" the MTA into a bad contract. The stakes are just too high.

If the MTA and the TWU can’t agree on a contract, workers should work without one—as city teachers have done for years. And if some future pol awards back pay, at least people will know who is to blame.

Original Source:



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