The contract between the MTA and its transit workers expires in a week and a half, but experts say that for once, there's no reason to worry about a possible strike and system wide shutdown. NY1’s Tina Redwine filed the following report.
Labor historian Joshua Freeman, a City University of New York professor, says it's the dawn of a new day in contract negotiations between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Transport Workers Union.
“For many years in New York City, it's been a tradition that when the Transport Workers contract is set to expire, everyone goes to bed not knowing if the trains and buses are going to be running the next morning,” says Freeman.
That doesn’t seem to be the case this year. The union's executive board has already voted to keep its members on the job when its contract expires on January 15. Freeman says that's because first-time union president John Samuelson realizes that the difficult finances of the state, city and MTA may prevent him from delivering pay raises he's promised his 35,000 members.
“What Muhammad Ali used to call rope a dope might be better, just hanging in there taking some blows with the expectation that conditions will become more favorable in the future,” says Freeman.
The MTA's new executive director, Joseph Lhota, is under pressure to follow Governor Andrew Cuomo's hard line on resisting wage increases for public employees. Cuomo has nominated Lhota to become MTA chairman.
The MTA also wants work rule changes such as allowing part-time train operators and bus drivers, which the union insists it will not allow.
“We really have two irreconcilable forces,” said Richard Ravitch, former MTA chairman.
Ravitch said that even if the union were to accept the changes, it's unlikely they would offset a wage increase.
He does think the MTA can come up with more money by cutting in its capital projects and, if the union agrees, by consolidating its bus operations. The tip comes with a caveat, though.
“When I did this for many years, I always resented people who had a lot of outside advice because they really didn’t know what was going on,” said Ravitch.
The head of the MTA and union were scheduled to begin money negotiations on Thursday, but that was postponed.
Lhota's confirmation hearing is set for Monday.