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Page 1

On Strike Against the NYC Transit Strike

by Jason Roth

It's hard to identify who's the biggest asshole in most issues today. It seems like it's hardly ever a choice between the right side and the wrong side of any argument. The best you can hope for is the "sorta right but with flawed arguments" side, and the "Jesus Christ, what a bunch of pricks" side. In the current NYC transit strike, I believe I have identified the essence of the transit strikers and those generally opposed to them. We have the "whining pussies" side, and the "whining, slave-driving pussies" side. For once, I find myself, almost, on the side of the union. Almost.

While out of the office on vacation today, I got to watch on TV as commuters to New York City sat in traffic inside and out of the city, and others walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to make it to work. I have never seen liberal Democratic New Yorkers as anti-union as they are when they're in a traffic jam or stuck walking to work. This is the most widely opposed strike since the airline pilots' strike. Evidently, workers everywhere should stick it to the man, as long as there's some asshole to drive you to the man holding your paycheck.

On TV news and on the Internet, there is nearly zero discussion of the precise nature of the disagreement between the Local 100 of the Transit Workers Union and the Metropolitan Transit Authority. All any of these liberals care about is their own commutes. When it's no longer just the big, bad corporations getting the shit end of the stick, everybody comes out against the strikers.

As New York Governor George Pataki said in a press conference, "We cannot allow anyone who serves a critical role to the public to break the law."

The law he's referring to is the law that forbids transit workers in New York to strike. When businesses such as the transportation industry are run as government monopolies, employer rules can become law. In this case, under the Taylor Law, employees can be fined two days of pay for each day of striking.

The main rationalization for the law is the need for emergency vehicles such as ambulances to have open passage to their destinations. This is a perfect example of how one government restriction leads to another. Rather than coming to the conclusion that the transportation industry should be privatized, which would allow for multiple transportation options, lawmakers decide that we need an additional law to keep the legal monopoly running. Here's a law that would help. How about chaining the subway conductors to their subway cars?

Don't like this one? Think it's "taking things to extremes"? Open your eyes to the charade your trying to hide from yourself. The "little bit of regulation" that you endorse only appears to "work" until push comes to shove. As long as everyone is gleefully taking it up the ass, everything appears hunky-dory. Once people insist on disagreeing, admit to yourself that you're all in favor of a little bit of tyranny to quell your anxiety.

There was another horrendous example of regulations for patching holes in regulations. It involved a car service driver. In NYC, there are legal car services in addition to the yellow cabs. Car services are permitted to pick up passengers who schedule by phone, but cannot pick up passengers who flag them down on the street.

A car service driver, who was interviewed on TV, dropped off passengers above 96th Street. 96th Street is one of the locations where police were stopping all cars and checking that they meet the 4-person per car "HOV" (high occupancy vehicle) rule under effect during rush hour. The purpose of this rule was, laughably, to reduce traffic. (Anyone who saw video of the city this morning knows how well this worked. I'm curious to know which mathematician determined that blocking intersections and causing stand-still traffic jams for the length of multiple city blocks would be an improvement to the city's traffic flow.)

After the car service driver dropped off his passengers above 96th Street, the cops would not let him drive back below 96th Street to pick up more scheduled passengers. This fucking guy was trapped, without work, above 96th Street, because he had no passengers. His question, which somehow I managed to understand in his emotional, broken Chinese-English, was: "How can I get passengers?" Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg should answer him. This guy was a strike victim.

Despite the lack of media coverage about the details of the strike negotiations, I decided to make an attempt to find out what the hell they were. I knew that the mandatory retirement age was part of it. I learned that pensions had something to do with it.

According to the Transit Workers Union's website:

"This is a fight over whether hard work will be rewarded with a decent retirement -- over the erosion or eventual elimination of health benefit coverage for working people."

As of midday, Dec. 20, there was no detailed information on the TWU's website. I kept searching. Then I discovered why the media decided generally not to discuss the negotiation details. Because it's fucking boring! Here's an excerpt from a NY Times article:

"A lawyer for the union, Walter M. Meginniss Jr., disclosed the union's plan to file a legal action. In an interview, he argued that the state's Taylor Law, which governs relations between government employers and public-sector workers, permits pensions to be discussed in a contract negotiation but bars either side from insisting on pension changes as part of its final offer."

You can get an idea from this just how much bureaucratic bullshit is involved. The details of the story, therefore, are not just the terms each side is arguing for, but the laws regarding how those terms are to be discussed. Evidently, you can discuss pensions during contract negotiations, but you can't actually do anything about them. Jesus Christ. And this is only the beginning of the tedious maze.

For me, when it comes down to evaluating the strikers in this case, I just need to look at two things. The first is the retirement age the union asked for. The MTA wanted to increase the minimum retirement age for new employees from 55 to 62. Not outrageous, that's for damn sure. The union, on the other hand, wanted to lower it to age 50. Of course, this means they just wanted to give the MTA the illusion of a compromise when they dropped, as they did, their retirement age requirement raise back down to 55 again. (What the fuck those bitter, old, subway-booth clerks planned to accomplish in their free time at age 50 is another question.)

The second point is the 24% pay increase that the union asked for (8% per year for three years). The MTA is now offering 3% the first year, 4% the second, and 3.5% the third. This increase, to remind you, has nothing to do with performance. As a subway clerk, all you need to do is half as good a job as the Metro Card machine outside your booth, and you'll get a raise. I say we give the technicians that repair these Metro Card computers double their usual salary increase just to piss off everybody else.

To put it concisely: the union management are a bunch of whining pussies. But this is the United States; they have the right to be. Usually, liberals take pride in this fact. All I'm asking is that they be consistent. While they're whining about their commutes, they should allow the other pussies the right to whine, too.

Did you have an opinion on this? Then post a comment.

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