January 24, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
The 190 members of United Transportation Union Local 1440 have been working without a contract for Staten Island Railway for five years. It has been in arbitration with the MTA since October. The kicker is, according to the Local’s leader, Thomas Wilson, a compensation package for his members would equal about $3.5 million, but the MTA has probably spent more than that on legal fees rather than reach a deal.
Wilson, general chairman for Local 1440 since 2008, asked the new MTA Chairman, Joseph Lhota, at a recent MTA Coalition meeting about why is the agency pursuing a strategy that seems to makes no sense financially. Lhota simply responded that he wasn’t aware of the situation as he just jumped on board with the MTA.
The next arbitration meeting is Friday, March 16, and however the arbitrator decides, both sides will most likely have to live with the decision. According to Wilson, arbitration was unavoidable as the MTA refused to concede on a number of issues while Local 1440 was willing to forego its very good medical plan via NYSHIP in order to save the company significant money.
Wilson emphasized he was willing to do that so long as the MTA would grant Local 1440 the benefits that other transit unions such as TWU Local 100 already enjoy. He explained that, by virtue of its size and bargaining power, the benefits Local 100 secures from the MTA during contract talks ultimately dictates the benefit parameters for other transit unions throughout the city.
“My current agreement with Staten Island Railway calls for members hired after 1988 to reach the top pay rate after six years. I asked the agency to reduce it to three after I was willing to replace our existing medical plan with the one the agency offers to Local 100 members, but the agency declined.”
He also said, with the NYSHIP plan being used as a bargaining chip, that he requested from the agency that vacation and sick time match that of Local 100.
“New York City Transit employees earn four weeks vacation after three years on the job and five weeks after 15 years. My members, in contrast, have to work 10 years and 20 years to earn four weeks and five weeks vacation, respectively.”
Wilson noted also that his members only get five sick days, while NYC Transit offers 12. But, again, the agency wasn’t willing to concede.
It’s quite extraordinary that the agency is going to such lengths with Local 1440, especially as the agency reached recent deals with two smaller unions representing about 50 members that also work for SI Railway. But Wilson believes that the MTA’s real goal is to break the “pattern bargaining” that was established when an arbitrator, John Zuccotti, ruled in 2007 in favor of an 11.5 percent pay raise over three years for Local 100 members.
The agency, which asked a judge to throw out the 11.5 percent award, claims there is no pattern. Instead, the agency wanted to apply an arbitrator’s decision stemming from negotiations between TWU Local 252 and Long Island Bus, which called for capping raises at eight percent over three years, according to Wilson. But as LaborPress readers know well, LI Bus no longer exists, as the former public service is now being delivered by a private company, Veolia Transportation Services.
Despite no contract for five years, the MTA filed an unfair labor contract against Local 1440, to add insult to injury. Wilson said the agency claimed the union was demanding in negotiations benefits it previously never asked for.
When Wilson and the leadership started those negotiations with the MTA, the Local was one contract behind the one reached by TWU Local 100. By the time the sides reached an impasse, and arbitration was necessary, Local 1440 fell behind two contracts’ worth. It’s hard enough for union members to work without a contract for a significant amount of time, but when they start falling way behind on the benefits that other transit workers receive for doing the same work, frustration inevitably grows.
“If Local 100 were to reach an agreement tomorrow, my members would be three contracts behind,” said Wilson.