Everyone wants to avoid a strike at the Long Island Rail Road. Elected officials have joined in the chorus with the Newsday Editorial Board in meekly stating the obvious that the two sides should sit and talk with an arbitrator. More troubling is the call by some officials that the parties should accept the decision of the National Labor Relations Board as final.
It sounds a lot to me like mandatory arbitration – a broken system that has given us $200,000.00 police officers. The NLRB will likely be no different since it has been stacked with the President’s appointees who tilt Left. Indeed it was a Federal board that earlier recommended above-inflation increases for the union.
The MTA management was outraged that there was no corresponding call for long-overdue work rule changes to a contract that borders on the absurd. Remember, this is the same entity whose employees were gaming the system with 98% of their retirees receiving retroactive disability payments.
When then Governor David Patterson and the State Legislature enacted the unfairly burdensome MTA payroll tax, they claimed there was a revenue gap of over a billion dollars that had to be closed. Myopic politicians failed to realize it wasn’t a revenue problem, it was a spending problem. (Disclosure– my law firm Campolo, Middleton & McCormick wrote the original brief opposing the MTA tax for our client, Classic Coach owned by William Schoolman.)
Some of it had to do with past management which engaged in outlandish waste, including the construction of a $20 million lounge and a $7 million doghouse. But the real killer to the taxpayers and ratepayers are the crazy work rules (not to mention the million lost in bogus disability pensions).
Rail Road employees receive double pay for the day if they simply work on both a diesel and electric train that shift. The State Controller recently criticized the unjustifiably high overtime payments as well. Overtime is obtained for changing your clothes or washing your hands, and is based on seniority, leading to extraordinary last year salaries, which lead to ridiculous pensions. Employee costs at the MTA is 58% of its budget compared to 35% for a typical private transportation company. There were over 7,500 MTA employees who made over $100,000 in 2010. Is it any wonder why the MTA doesn’t conform to its mandate that its operations be self-sustaining?
While former MTA Boards were part of the problem, this present board is trying to do the right thing in demanding concessions, so they don’t have to rely on yet another hefty rate increase. At the very least, their efforts at fiscal reform should be encouraged and promoted by editorialists and our officials.
It’s not enough just to complain about the MTA Tax and higher fares – we need to support real structural reform. These opportunities don’t come along very often. Seize it now.
STEVE LEVY IS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR COST EFFECTIVE GOVERNMENT, A THINK TANK COMMITTED TO GOVERNMENT EFFICIENCY. HE SERVED AS SUFFOLK COUNTY EXECUTIVE, 2004-2001 AND AS A NYS ASSEMBLYMAN