December 20, 2005

TWU Strike

Posted in Politics at 1:23 pm by antonello

I have an inherent suspicion of any organization.  It’s the anarcist in me, I suppose.  The MTA, especially, after the cooked books and the wasted surpluses has filled me with even more than my usual dose.  So I tend to favor the TWU.  Unions are usually presumed guilty in many cases, and especially in a case with high visibility, many people are skeptical of the validity of labor’s case.  For a sample, just look at the many comments now on the TWU blog.
The coverage concentrates the dispute on four main areas: pension, salary, health insurance and security.  Another major issue is disciplinary action.  Some other issues from the NY Times yesterday:

Bread-and-butter issues – wages and pensions – have been the dominant concerns at the bargaining table, but leaders of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union have repeatedly said that their members were equally animated by workplace conditions including on-the-job hazards and abuse from riders.

The survey, which was conducted in the spring and summer, found that 24 percent of bus and subway workers said they faced serious hazards more than once a month, including smoke, dangerous chemicals and extreme temperatures. It also found that 70 percent felt that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s policies and procedures were unfair.

Many workers said their jobs failed to provide for essential needs. For example, 78 percent said they lacked access to bathroom facilities at least once a month; 51 percent of bus drivers said they had problems finding a bathroom one or more times a day.

New York City Transit, the authority subsidiary that runs subways and buses, issued 15,200 disciplinary violations last year, but workers said they felt they were often blamed while supervisors and passengers were not held accountable. In the survey, 13 percent said they faced abuse from supervisors regularly, while 74 percent said they faced a verbal or physical threat from passengers at least once a year.

But then there’s that creeping suspicion in me again: there is no doubt that the TWU’s actions are going to cripple many people today.  Direct action spurs action, of course.  The idea is to get the MTA to give in to the TWU’s demands.  But at what cost?  Many, many people will be hindered from working today and many more will face an extremely arduous commute in very cold weather.  All of this comes at a potential cost to their liveliehood and their families.
Considering the animosity against the union generated by today’s strike, which has also been spurred by the weather, the MTA, and doubts about the union’s validity, I wonder if the union considered a slowdown in lieu of a strike.  Starting last week, imagine if the TWU had declared that they would walk off the job during the evening shift.  There would be no train or bus service from 7pm to 7am.  This action suggests to the MTA that the union is serious, but also courts public opinion.  It still breaks the Taylor Law, I would think, but the financial burden on the union would be less severe (potentially, I really don’t know the law well enough to know how it would be deployed).  With a slowdown the union could explain that it respects other working people, and will do its best to serve those who it can.  Commuters still get to work, and perhaps appreciate the respect the union has given them.  In the face of continued action, the TWU could either slow the schedule down during rush hour or shorten the time workers on are on duty during the day.  This does cede some of union’s inherent power, but perhaps that’s worth it if it bolstered their support in the public.

Interesting, thought-provoking debate at newsblog.

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2 Comments »

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