Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Off the rails

I hope those bloody New York transport authority workers go back to their thankless, subterranean, service industry jobs pretty soon ‘cos I just can’t afford the consequences. I wasn’t there either yesterday and I’ve just heard that the penalty for not turning up is two days pay for each day you’re not there. Shit. I must owe them millions by now.

But you’ve got to admire a law that allows the employer to earn twice as much as they pay you. Hell, someone should set up a franchise! I’m more surprised they didn’t encourage these people to strike sooner. And more often.

And for what? For conditions they don’t deserve, even though they’ve already got them. Clearly they’ve had them too damn long.
All across this city, workers who have no pensions and who must pay huge premiums for health insurance hear about transit workers fighting to preserve pensions at 55 and employer-paid health insurance. They fall prey to the Bloomberg line of "greedy workers."
These greedy workers are just trouble. And, by the sounds of it, in dire need of constant surveillance.
Local 100 President Roger Toussaint has repeatedly complained that the MTA issued a phenomenal 15,000 disciplinary actions against his members last year.
I just hope he got disciplined for complaining like that. It's not his place to complain.

So it’s good to see some objective journalism being practiced in these highly emotional times, such as the cub reporter who penned this:
The Transport Workers Union has elected to illegally strike against the citizens of the City of New York and all of those who live in the region and need to travel into the five boroughs. This is an outrageously irresponsible action and a terrible miscalculation.
Until then I hadn’t quite realised that the strike was against citizens, let alone the citizens of the City of New York who have suffered enough for one lifetime. That's so un-American, isn't it? So I say cut to the chase; call it the urban "terrorism" it is and get the bloody SWAT team in there pronto. And while we wait for the sound of Humvee’s and helicopters to arrive, let’s hear some more from the cub journalist:
The key concept here is that such a strike is unlawful. The State Legislature, under the Taylor Law, properly set up a procedure to protect the public from the unfair power a municipal union can wield against the people of a city. But in so doing, it allowed for other procedures, including arbitration, to settle matters when they become stalemated. If anything, municipal unions have been treated fairly under the Taylor Law. The union is now being held in contempt.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty of the negotiations, it is clearly necessary for public agencies, such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to get a better handle on rising health care and pension costs…
Can’t argue with “properly” set up procedures, I suppose. Nor laws. That’s why they're called laws. You just have to obey them and shut the f*** up, see? And according to Seattle Times,
most New York unions dealing with public sector employees have been getting wage rises for years. That these haven’t kept up with the overall level of inflation in the country isn’t the employer’s fault. Even if they are sitting on a pretty surplus of $1 billion. That’s just more “nitty gritty” stuff that might confuse you if you start thinking about it. And the two-tier salaries? Two is twice as many as one. So it’s gotta be good.

Considering the transport workers haven’t gone on strike for 25 years in a city that is famed for its crack whores, homeless, muggings, tourists, ganstas and that cultural abomination Sex and the City suggests they’re probably just pulling a stunt. I mean, if they could handle all that for the last quarter of a century, why strike now? No. They’re just being peevish, trying to threaten consumers' God-given rights to travel the city in search of bargains 24/7 and deliberately making maids and nannies and bus boys and waiters late for work. And as if that’s not bad enough, the suffering seems to have no bounds:
At the United Nations, diplomats ate cold salads or served themselves from steam tables when most of the kitchen staff didn't turn up for work.
What is this? Freaking Darfur? At least Wall Street had the sense to charter luxury busses so that the important work of buying and selling abstractions could continue in peace. They probably had better catering too.

Witnessing these levels of resilience is almost as poignant as the time that spoilsport Greens member tried to ban drunkenness for politicians in NSW parliament. At taxpayer subsidised alcohol rates of course you’d get pissed, you fool - who you trying to kid? And it's not at all ironic now, nor was it then, to note that the same group of politicians were at that very time coming down hard on Sydney’s own subterranean transport workers, threatening to sack them if they so much as had 0.1% of alcohol in their systems, one fifth of the legal limit at which you may drive a car in NSW.

The Premier at the time had a fairly decisive view on things:
Asked why politicians should be allowed to be drunk while on the job when public sector workers such as train drivers undergo drug and alcohol tests, Mr Carr said MPs can't be compared with those who, among other things, have to operate brakes.
No. Much more dangerous to operate brakes (on vehicles which have the option of automated brakes being applied if impulse response buttons are not pushed every 30 seconds, on tracks which pretty much go in one direction) than to make decisions about billions of dollars, millions of people, hundreds of laws, shitloads of roads and national parks and hospitals and schools and aarrggh – I don’t think I can go on... - let's get back to that strike in New York...)
The strike comes at a time when the labor movement has suffered serious setbacks at every level. Most recently, auto workers are being asked to take unheard-of cuts in pay and benefits and union membership continues to free-fall in the private sector.
I have no satisfying explanation for the many embittered folk who, instead of considering their own losses and disintegrating work rights in recent years (which, surprise surprise, coincide with the demise of unions and changes in legislation), form a nasty, hungry, resentful pack, trying to divest the "lucky ones" of what they still have, reminding me of compounds in South Africa (we call them "gated communities" - at least South Africa didn't mince words there) where an armed black guard would stand ready to shoot anyone who attempted to enter the property and was quite often more racist than his masters. I see it, I recognise it, I don't understand it. It's like a collective mental illness or something.

According to the New York Times
The authority improved its earlier wage proposals, dropped its demand for concessions on health benefits and stopped calling for an increase in the retirement age, to 62 from 55.

But then, just hours before the strike deadline, the authority's chairman, Peter S. Kalikow, put forward a surprise demand that stunned the union. Seeking to rein in the authority's soaring pension costs, he asked that all new transit workers contribute 6 percent of their wages toward their pensions, up from the 2 percent that current workers pay. The union balked, and then shut down the nation's largest transit system for the first time in a quarter-century. (emphasis mine)
Yet for all the rage and bluster that followed, this war was declared over a pension proposal that would have saved the transit authority less than $20 million over the next three years.
So the guy who's in charge of this billion dollar authority in one of the biggest cities in the world waits until the last minute of negotiations, introduces a completely new agenda item and asks people who already are falling behind every year in relative wages to take a futher 4% pay cut, calling it a "contribution". I just hope that someone works out his salary and conditions and publishes it.

Still, not everyone had a bad day yesterday. Canny marketers, with reptilian accuracy, took ADvantage of the possibilities offered by Google. (OK - terrible pun, but it's my pun, so I'm leaving it in).

And the final word really does have to go to the following anonymous, and quite possibly prophetic, comment overheard in New York:
Suit: I read that they're gonna be replaced by robots soon. A robot's not gonna complain about pension.

Cheers to larimdaME for the great photo

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