July 11, 2013
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—Security measures to protect New York from another terrorist attack have accelerated in a post-9/11 world, but the ranks of the bridge and tunnel officers who patrol the city’s major crossings are dwindling because the Metropolitan Transportation Agency wants to cut labor costs.
According to Wayne Joseph, president of the Bridge and Tunnel Officers Benevolent Association, the union used to represent nearly 750 officers but they’ve lost about 11 percent of membership since 2009 because the agency isn’t hiring and is instead increasing workloads.
“The agency claims they’re having financial difficulties, but they turn over a huge surplus over to the MTA from the nearly $1.5 billion they collect in tolls every year,” said Joseph.
Joseph noted that the MTA nets about $900 million after paying for capital upgrades, debt service and operating expenses such as salaries and medical claims. But his members, as with hundreds of thousands of city employees, are working without new contracts.
“With such a huge surplus for the MTA, there’s no reason for us not to secure a new contract,” Joseph said.
The lack of new contracts, as well as a growing list of grievances against MTA Bridges and Tunnels, is demoralizing the membership, according to Joseph.
“Overtime issues, staffing issues and time-and-leave issues are just some of the grievances we’ve filed.”
Perhaps the biggest concern to Joseph and the membership is the pilot program on electronic tolling at the Henry Hudson Bridge between Manhattan and the Bronx which has led to the dismissal of toll collectors who are members of the benevolent association.
“We’ve brought this up many times in negotiations with the agency asking them do they plan on expanding the pilot program to other facilities, but they refuse to reveal any information,” said Joseph.
Bridge and tunnel officers work in freezing and sweltering temperatures as they monitor hundreds of thousands of autos and trucks driving over and under New York City’s multiple bridges and tunnels daily. They go through rigorous training that meet state and city standards, such as the New York State Municipal Police Training Council and New York City Fire Department training. They set up checkpoints at different crossings to investigate suspicious vehicles.
But the bulk of their jobs are routine traffic stops, which is actually the riskiest aspect of the job.
“Routine traffic infractions such as no signal when turning and stops for expired inspection stickers or registration can turn into an arrest of the driver for transporting 30 kilos of drugs. You would not believe the things that come up out of regular traffic stops,” Joseph said.
The union is currently in negotiations with MTA Bridges and Tunnels over issues of pay raises they’re entitled to based on provisions in the expired contract. But the agency has been balking and isn’t eager to comply, especially as over 20 different unions representing workers at the agency are working without contracts.
Joseph noted that the anti-union sentiment running wildly throughout the country seems to be taking hold in New York.
“It’s just a really bad time for unions right now. It used to be smooth sailing but now the MTA just wants to cut, cut, cut. The members’ morale is at an all-time low.”
Despite the gloomy prospects for an immediate pay raise or a new contract, Joseph said the union will have to remain steadfast.
“We’re just going to have to keep fighting to keep what we have.”
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