Thursday, December 15, 2005

7 hours before the MTA workers strike

For those of you who do not live in New York City, you may not be aware that at 12:01am tomorrow morning, the contract between the state and the New York transit workers expires, and unless negotiations yield an agreement between the two parties, the Transport Workers Union, Local 100, will strike. That probably doesn’t seem to be a big deal for most people outside the city. But I sold my car before I moved out to New York, and so I rely on public transportation to get everywhere except my immediate neighborhood (for which I rely on my legs). If a strike occurs, the city’s vast subway and bus system will come to a grinding halt and the more than 7 million people who use the MTA everyday will be stranded or, worse, will not be able to get to work.

All of this compounded by the fact that in the state of New York, it is illegal for public workers to strike (Taylor’s Law) and anyone striking will be personally be subjected to massive fines.

Now, I am a member of 2 labor unions (SAG & Actors’ Equity) so I support my fellow brothers and sisters in their fight to win fair wages and decent benefits. Yet I am torn between that and my belief in state legislation to protect the masses, namely the fact that it is ILLEGAL to strike. Upon further research, I became haunted by the burning question- “How can a union fight to protect its members when it is not allowed to pull their workers from a job under any circumstances (including an expired contract)?”

I understand that Taylor’s Law is there to protect the citizens of New York and local commerce by trying to avoid loss due to public workers striking. But the fact that Taylor’s Law is in effect gives a strong upper hand to the bureaucrats and it is entirely upon the union leadership to accept terms or face punishment. Who will protect the workers if the unions are not allowed to stand up for them? What muscle does a union have if they are never allowed to stop working? I feel for the workers- most of them probably do not want to strike and would be more than willing to make deep concessions in order to keep working. But this is the reason unions were created in the first place. Alone, man does not have the bargaining power to ask for what is fair and equitable for a huge corporation. But as a union, the collective can make objective decisions that we subjectively may not be able to make and, as a group, stand up to the corporation. Taylor's Law has taken bargaining power away from the unions by making it illegal to strike- who's going to slap some restrictions on big business?

But with all of that, I feel for the everyday New Yorker’s who will suffer if the workers strike. I feel for the economy which will plummet at the rate of $400 million per day. These are two equally compelling and important sides to one big problem, and both cannot win. The injustice of it all makes me crazy!

To top it all off, MTA recently gave all riders a “holiday fare bonus” by which people either get 1/2 price fares on the weekends, or those who buy monthly cards get 35 days for the price of 31. So why did MTA give money to the riders when they could have used some of that “surplus” for employee benefits and raises????

I tell you, I ought to run for office and fix things...

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