Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Looks Like We Got Us a Transit Strike, Ya'll!

Yeah, it's a bullhorn and Steve McGarrett, which just makes it cooler. Annoying digital music warning, but the image is from the Jack Lord gallery, page six, black and whites

The news comes from a Transit Union whose average employee's salary is $55,000, who can retire at 55 with half pay for life, and who pay NO copayment for their health insurance. Sound better than your benefits? It almost certainly is, and they demand more. And of course, the talk is that this dispute isn't about money, it's about respect and dignity. Huh? Will a handshake and my hearty thanks do?

Most of the changes the MTA proposed in the new contract would apply only to future hirees, not current workers. What horrors were proposed, you ask? Intolerable items such as contributing 3% to their own pensions or even migrating to 401(k)s, co-paying something for their medical like you probably do, having a standard retirement age of 62... and on and on, will the travesties never cease?!

(Update: I've just learned that in the latest offer rejected near midnight, retirement age stays 55, new hires contribute 6% to pension, and MLK 2 day becomes a paid employee holiday- Not good enough either. It's all about the pension, baby, but if I hear one more union shill or reporter regurgitate that it isn't about the money, it's about respect, I'm going to shriek.)

As unfunded and underfunded pension liabilities sink one dinosaur-legacied company after another, and everyone you know is saving through IRAs and 401(k)s, the unions have their death grip on the pension teat and the milk has turned to ash.

But lest I sound Johnny One-note, I should mention this is also about phasing in robotic trains which reduce staff, shifting staffing to increased security functions, forcing a group of private drivers from recently acquired bus lines to join the union. Okay, and retooling a pension plan with a billion dollar future liability that threatens to sink the agency. Dignity, my Aunt Fanny.

The union president says they're protecting the future generations of unborn transit workers. AAAAHHHHHHH! In your version of the future, do we require thousands upon thousands of transit workers, or do you envision things keep getting better automated and engineered, requiring human minds mainly for troubleshooting and judgement questions, not the routine movement of A to B and back to A?

The fares went up, and the union wants to be sure they get their share. Who needs upgraded, overhauled trains, better security and service? I want to pay the guy in the token booth $85 grand a year so he can retire in his fifties to some warmer state where his pensioner's income will exceed the state's per capita average. That's what I want. Why should he have to save or plan? He deserves up to four decades of pay, with cost of living adjustments of course, and full health care for life because he ignores me and sighs with ennui when I ask from behind the filthy bulletproof glass which track I need. That's value add, baby.

If we were to separate employees by criticality of value- mechanics versus token drones for example- the whole union gets stratified and we might be allowed to actually begin to treat people based on what they contribute not based on which group they were born into or paid to join or senioriteeed (meaning outlasted not merited) themselves into.

And the people who will suffer from the strike most? Well, strikers will hurt more than their salaried union leaders who will still be fully paid, while typically strikers draw some percentage of their normal pay from a fund that has a bottom. Who else suffers? Is it the people who can ungarage their cars, afford private livery or rentals or a $50 gypsy cab from the outer boroughs? Is it people with white-collar jobs who can telecommute? Could the truly hosed people be the ones without available sick days or vacation time? The ordinary people with jobs they have to show up for, the ones who don't have gold-plated health and pension, who don't make north of 50k a year, who have NO other option to get to jobs and school?

Ha! Ha! Screw you, little guys! Hope your busboy's wages or assistant's paycheck doesn't mean much to you. Hope you don't mind a chilly, two-hour walk in from the Bronx. And it's not just working stiffs or collegian commuters, the public schools are cutting morning classes by two hours expecting students won't be able to get to class. Great, we need even stupider people than our schools already graduate.

I can only hope this strike breaks the union's backs first. In wintertime when walking is less feasible, before Christmas- traditionally an important money-making time not just for the Monopoly-style tycoons that people imagine run everything but for all the normal people working in holiday-boosted stores and restaurants- the union is breaking faith with the city it claims to serve. It's all about the dignity though. Forget the elderly, the poor, the moms with strollers full of children you see on every train. They don't deserve dignity or even a ride.

I hope the public decides that having a bunch of people paid better, better benefitted, with earlier, cushier retirement than they get holding their lives hostage is the real disrespect. Then, they can in freedom, like Steve, raise their own bullhorns to the sky.

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