Saturday, December 17, 2005

Labor, The Subway and NYC

Cross-posted from TPMCafe, apologies if you've already seen this:

Chances are, there won't be a strike of transit workers in New York City. One hasn't happened since 1980, after all, and it's always threatened around contract time, after all, and they always miss the contract deadline, after all, and there's that pesky judge who says workers can be fined $25,000 a day per striking and lose double pay, after all. So, it probably won't happen.

But, you won't believe the media here, and the local government. Nobody is standing up for these workers and, below the fold, I'd like to argue that their demands are not out of line, in the least.

Dec 17, 2005 -- 12:54:44 AM EST

Okay, they want 8% raises per year, for the next three years. But, they're willing to come down on that, just not down to the 3% they're being offered. Remember, also, that when they last received a contract, in 2002, they got no raises. So, if you look at it on a 5 year basis, the 8% demand might just catch them up with five years of inflation, maybe.

Beyond that, inflation in New York City is at about... 3%. So, if they accept the MTA's offer, they barely keep their ground and could lose ground if inflation increases over the next three years, which is very possible. Is it so much to ask, as a reward for working, for salaries that increase better than the rate of inflation? I thought that working is supposed to bring the reward of an improving lifestyle, not stagnation.

Here's what local elected officials that non-New Yorkers will know have to say: Hillary Clinton won't take sides. Why not? I don't know, she could if she wanted to and it'd be nice to see a Democrat side with labor. Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki say the MTA offer is fair and that the workers should accept it. So, there you go, among the national figures -- 2 against the workers and one neutral. Nice.

The media has been mostly concerned with what will happen to commuters. Makes sense, commuters consume most of the media. But, of course, a strike is bad for commuters by definition. It's meant to be. Problem is, most commuters will likely see the strikers as the enemy, not the MTA management.

In fact, I've already notices this. Even progressive friends have said to me that the workers "could hold the city hostage," and that it isn't fair. Well, it's odd that capitalism allows a job so important that the workers could take a city of 8 million hostage but that those workers can't get a raise, I think.

A lot of companies have insisted, and some of these are companies that I know from experience will close for snow, have told their workers to find a way in, if a strike happens. Bloomberg has said he'll walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and cheer on workers who hoof it from the boroughs to Manhattan. The emotional atmosphere is as if tough New Yorkers will stand up to Transit Workers the same way they stood up to bin Laden after 9-11.

Except that these workers ARE New Yorkers. They have more in common with most New Yorkers than most New Yorkers have in common with their employers or their mayor.

It's really sad, I think, that we can't find New Yorkers, especially not in the media or among the elected, who will stand up and say that, at the very least, when the workers want an 8% raise that an offer of 3% is so far from a compromise that 5% would be reasonable.

I know, it's about more than just wages. The Transit Workers Union isn't right about everything, either. But just looking at the wage issue, especially in light of local inflation, it's hard for me to see the workers as the bad guys here. Or has the entire city just been conditioned to accept wages and benefits offered, without complaint or action?


At 11:35 AM , Blogger adriana said...

I hope you didn't have to walk to work today...


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