Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Long Island Rail Road, on the brink of a strike

The Long Island Rail Road and the Metropolitan Transit Authority have shut down negotiations.  Members of Congress have said that the Federal Government will not step in.  Mayor DiBlasio of New York City is ignoring the issue completely, not wanting to do anything to alienate his left wing base.  The only politician who might try to step in now with some magic is Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo is by most accounts an effective governor and good manager who somehow often engineers compromises when necessary.  In fact, it seems that it is what he loves best about his job, those times when he can tackle an urgent issue and get it resolved.  It doesn't always work, and sometimes he ducks fights, but he is the only one left who can make the effort to stop this debacle from occurring.
Now we wait to see if he shows up.  There is no speculation or mention in the media that he will, but  here I wonder.

The LIRR union is most famous for historically having 97% of those who retire from the railroad doing so on disability, and that's on a railroad with one of the best safety records in the country.  Not an expert here on the details of the issues surrounding this strike deadlock, despite reading the newspapers thoroughly, the union and the transit authority have been at loggerheads for several years at least.  Without any new agreement, average union worker pay is already around $85,000 a year plus having a defined benefit retirement program that is generous, and unheard of in private industry today, and a first class healthcare plan for which employees currently pay nothing.  What they already have is better than most comparable systems in the country and compares well to any from what has been read here, but there seem to be no writers taking on the real facts of this case, and neither the MTA's nor the Union's numbers can necessarily be trusted.  The MTA could have administrative costs that could be trimmed, but there is no information here on that.

The railroad has approximately 300,000 riders every weekday.  On summer weekends it is a prime route to east end beaches and resort towns.  The real strength of the union is that this is an island.  There are no bridges or tunnels on the east end of this approximately 140 mile island or any in the middle.  On the west end there are five bridges and one tunnel for car, commerical truck, and commercial bus traffic going into Manhattan and two bridges going north into Westchester County.  That's it.  The Long Island Rail Road Union has a monopoly on a necessity.

On May 23rd, a comment, "Gridlock City", was written here about driving into and out of Manhattan  from our Long Island area on a normal day.  With the last strike having been in 1994 and not being pleasant, this would be something that is hard to imagine.  There is no comparison to the congestion on the main traffic arteries into Manhattan and in Manhattan itself today to what existed 20 years ago.  It's not even close.  This strike would cause great distress to many workers and businesses, who knows what that the number is but somewhere around 300,000 people is a logical staring point, maybe 50,000 or less somehow, who knows.  This all would be to benefit 5,400 well paid union workers.

Not there a new contract shouldn't be agreed to and the union workers should deserve a pay raise over time. There should be a new contract.  They seem to be down to whether it an aggregate 17% pay raise over six or seven years and whether existing workers would be required to pay 2% of their pay in health care costs, that's just 2%.  New hires would be required to pay 4% of their health care costs and that outrages the union.  One might ask why.  The answer, there is rampant nepotism and patronage in the LIRR union with its minimally diverse workforce.  DiBlasio being missing in action and not making any constructive comment becomes more dismally political and hypocritical when that fact is considered.

There are of course many other issues in a union contract which only those in the midst of it are aware of, and reporters rarely get into the details.  These union contracts are certainly not anything in complexity like bills coming out of Congress, but one could bet that, though much much smaller, they bear some resemblance.

Governor Cuomo,  please give it a try.  There will not be a good outcome to this if the strike occurs.  In fact, after maybe a week or two of efforts at goodwill, it will degenerate into economic chaos.  


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