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December 12, 2002

Union Bashing & NY Transit Strike

Jane Galt is joining in what will no doubt be an outpouring at the horrors of unionism if the transit workers strike on Monday in New York City.

What's funny about conservatives is the hypocrisy they have, since they suddenly incite class warfare whenever decently paid workers fight for their union.

New York is facing hard times, so they demand that the transit workers sacrifice their wages to help the city. Sounds fair enough, except these same conservatives promote massive tax cuts for the wealthy and express horror at any demands that the rich pay increased taxes to balance the same budget that they feel the transit workers may imperil.

And the class warfare is pretty raw by folks like Jane Galt-- "They have a most generous benefits package. There are a lot of people in this city right now who would be quite happy to take the transit workers' current salary package...It's a mess. Our best hope may be that unemployed New Yorkers take to hunting down transit workers and pounding some sense into them."

Can you imagine if a liberal called for the unemployed to beat up stockbrokers or CEOs to avenge the dotcom crash of the economy? But conservative hypocrisy knows no bounds.

I thought you folks said promoting envy was the Democrats stock in trade. But of course you didn't mean it. You conservatives play divide and conquer. Make the poor whites resent the blacks over affirmative action. Call for chopping down workers who stand up and unionize.

You all love it-- treating working folks like scorpions in the bottle climbing on top of each other to push the others down, all as the wealthy laugh and get richer and richer.

And conservatives like Galt act like these transit workers are somehow living high off the hog. As these wage rates show, a station agent makes only $20.01 per hour, hardly amazing money in a city like New York where housing costs can run to $1600 for a single room. Better paid train operators make only $24.35 per hour-- about $50,000 per year.

Under the proposed wage freeze (a cut in real terms with inflation) plus benefit cuts, a transit worker making $50,000 per year would lose $9,975 over the three year contract compared to the present one. That's a pretty serious sacrifice to demand of working folks when the wealthy aren't stepping up to cut their income through increased taxes.

The timing of the strike could be better for getting public support-- cold winter days just before Christmas would not be my first choice -- but the Transit Workers Union are proposing innovative ways to pay to hold onto reasonable wages for their members while improving service at the same time. They have a proposal for "Bus Rapid Transit" which would redesign street signallying and use dedicated bus lanes to increase bus speeds, decrease labor costs per mile and decrease fuel costs.

Crises call for bold compromises that attempt win-win situations. The worst thing for New York is a round of unimaginative austerity cuts that decrease wages, decrease dollars in the pockets of city consumers, and further erode the local economy. The TWU is at least stepping up to the plate with imaginative solutions.

The union-bashers are just sitting on the sideline encouraging the train wreck.

Posted by Nathan at December 12, 2002 03:33 PM

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Imaginative solutions like those dockworkers on the west coast, whose imaginative solution to technology that would make their operations much more efficient and viable in the 21st century was "No, I must be paid 6-figures for the work equivalent of scanning bar codes!"

Union bashers don't have to sit on the sidelines.. we jump in and short the companies' stocks.

Posted by: Mike at December 12, 2002 04:20 PM

And your comments show that your idea of innovation is just cutting wages, not finding solutions that improve use of technology while allowing workers to share in its benefits.

The ILWU for decades has participated in the complete technological transformation of dockwork on the West Coast. Yes, they have demanded a share in the profits of that transformation and they have more right to it than shareholders who sit on the sidelines.

Short the stock-- who cares? But invest long in creative unions.

Posted by: Nathan Newman at December 12, 2002 04:41 PM

Jane Galt is joining in what will no doubt be an outpouring at the horrors of unionism if the transit workers strike on Monday in New York City.

Humor as an opening device. Okay, fair enough.

What's funny about conservatives is the hypocrisy they have, since they suddenly incite class warfare whenever decently paid workers fight for their union.

Please explain why this is NOT a straw man variant. "Conservatives" broadly believe (fill in the blank), therefore one conservative arguing a specific point constitutes hypocrisy?

New York is facing hard times, so they demand that the transit workers sacrifice their wages to help the city. Sounds fair enough, except these same conservatives promote massive tax cuts for the wealthy and express horror at any demands that the rich pay increased taxes to balance the same budget that they feel the transit workers may imperil.

Deja vu..."conservatives" broadly believe (fill in the blank), therefore...? How do you propose to pay people with non-existent money? Given that money increases (if any) can ONLY come from the tax base which will be greatly sabotaged if these people strike during the holiday shopping season...

And the class warfare is pretty raw by folks like Jane Galt-- "They have a most generous benefits package. There are a lot of people in this city right now who would be quite happy to take the transit workers' current salary package...It's a mess. Our best hope may be that unemployed New Yorkers take to hunting down transit workers and pounding some sense into them."

Out-of-context is as out-of-context does. But thank-you for providing the link to her post; I trust your readership will be wise enough to read the original post, and see if the tone implied by your selective quotation matches the context in which it was originally presented.

Can you imagine if a liberal called for the unemployed to beat up stockbrokers or CEOs to avenge the dotcom crash of the economy?

If it was presented in a clear attempt to be witty without resorting to cynicism and hypocrisy...I would enjoy it. Kind of like how I enjoyed your opening statement, until the remainder of your post gave me reason to believe that you wrote that opening in malcontent rather than cleverness.

But conservative hypocrisy knows no bounds.

I'll let that one self-destruct on its own time.

I thought you folks said promoting envy was the Democrats stock in trade. But of course you didn't mean it. You conservatives play divide and conquer. Make the poor whites resent the blacks over affirmative action. Call for chopping down workers who stand up and unionize.

What WAS in your breakfast cereal this morning? This is just unnecessarily acetic, and doesn't really address Jane Galt's specific point.

You all love it-- treating working folks like scorpions in the bottle climbing on top of each other to push the others down, all as the wealthy laugh and get richer and richer.

Ditto the above response.

The remainder of your post -- with its clear data presentation and counterevidences -- I enjoyed. If you could have posted it without the polemic that preceded it, I would have enjoyed it a lot more...

Posted by: anony-mouse at December 12, 2002 05:43 PM

Ah being fisked on my own site.

Galt's union bashing is very typical of conservatives making good incomes bashing workers making a basic wage because of a long history of union struggle. And the class envy (of the pitting the have-less against the have-a-little) incited by conservatives is all too typical.

And I don't think I said anything about conservatives that is not a broad part of the agenda. As is the hypocrisy.

Posted by: Nathan Newman at December 12, 2002 05:58 PM

One thing that doesn't get stressed about the NY MTA is how top-heavy it is in terms of management.

For example, there are two commuter rail departments: Metro North whcih serves the northern suburbs and Connecticut and the Long Island Railroad, each with its own management structure and concomitant bureaucracy. If the MTA were really concerned about saving money, they would give serious thought about combining the two into one commuter rail department.

Posted by: Randy Paul at December 12, 2002 07:49 PM

Nathan, you need to check your facts. You can't just regurgitate the talking points memo from the transit workers union, any more than I can post the MTA's press releases and expect anyone to take me seriously.

For one thing, the main thrust of my post was that there is simply no money to pay the unions. It is irrelevant what they make, because the city is facing a 12.5% budget shortfall this year, scheduled to balloon to 15% next year.

I discussed the problem of raising taxes in the context of New York's already very high tax rates (statutory total for a worker tops 40% around that 50K you mentioned), and the extreme risk the city currently faces that many of the companies whose leases are up for renewal will move elsewhere if their companies or their employees are hit with substantial tax rates. American Express, for example, estimates that they pay an extra $45 million a year (the company, not its employees) for the privilege of being here. Most of us residents would rather not encourage them to leave by jacking up their taxes and shutting down their transportation. In addition, many of the taxes the city levies are reviewed by the state legislature, which must sign off. This makes things difficult because the suburban members of the assembly are not necessarily made unhappy by tax increases that hurt the city -- many companies may move into their district.

Your calculation of union payroll averages is erroneous on many fronts. First of all, there is no inflation to speak of -- if you followed the economic news, you'd know that we're facing deflation, which will inflate the purchasing power of the union salaries above what it already is. In fact, New York City already has deflation; the bursting bubble has hit us hard. Second of all, you can't just multiply by 40hours/50weeks and get a pay rate. Those transit workers work holidays at double or triple time. Overtime at same, with at least 2X for Sundays. They get shift differentials for swing and night shifts. Jump time, shape-up, hazard bonus, and a thousand other things increase their rates quite a lot. They get extremely generous benefits, such as nearly full-ride pensions, early retirement, comprehensive health and dental, family death benefits, and so on. Average salaries for a top end worker are going to be nearer $100K than $50K. Also, while a studio in Chelsea may go for $1600, quite affordable housing is available in the suburbs and the outer boroughs. And a starting salary of $20.00 an hour is more than most people make in this city, whatever their background or education, which is why there is a long waiting list for transit jobs.

As for us rich conservatives, if you bothered to find anything out about me you'd know that I make considerably less than $20 an hour, and that like the other low-paid workers in this city, if there is a transit strike, I will make nothing at all. I will also find it harder to get future work because the strike will hurt the tax base by shutting down the city in the middle of the holiday shopping/tourism season.

If you knew anything about "Bus Rapid Transit" you would know that the other effect would be to bring all other traffic in the city to a shrieking halt by cutting the already inadequate space by 1/3-1/2 in most major areas, while increasing traffic accidents by requiring wide turns.

I live in this city. I grew up in the New York City transit community. I've been following the story closely. I have spent almost a year dealing with union payrolls. And I'm getting all my extra information on the story from Democrats. If you want to play "fact check the conservative", you'll need to work pretty hard.

Posted by: Jane Galt at December 12, 2002 08:21 PM

Sorry, forgot one thing -- if you'd paid any attention to the City's budget woes, you'd know that the majority of the money to close it is coming from, not austerity cuts, but tax increases.

Posted by: Jane Galt at December 12, 2002 08:24 PM

"fisked" on your own site? Well, if you want to use a term that puts you in the company of his ilk, that's your business. Myself, I simply wanted to provide counterpoint, and sometimes direct per-point response ("fisking" if you will) is the most straightforward kind. But are you going to respond to the actual criticisms?

You took the trouble to not only respond to the Jane Galt post, you posted a link in her comments section; presumably, you wanted reasonable people to evaluate your alternative perspective. I cannot speak on behalf of all reasonable people, but I do know that some of them, when they read a post that begins by building a fantastic paper facade of position-bashing, leave without bothering to see if a presentation of actual evidence will follow.

I read blogs because I get exposed to a variety of news and views, and those in turn sharpen my own perspective. I love witty repratee, I enjoy clever wordplay, I appreciate criticisms that are sharp and biting without wandering off into the realm of bitter and ridiculous.

My challenge to you is: Can you provide any of the above, or will I have to continue getting it from James Lileks and Mark Steyn and Jonah Goldberg, who obviously will present me with strong conservative views? I'd love to find a left-leaning commentator who is the literary equal of any of the above, but then sites like this respond with Krugman-esque sneers and jeers and that's just disappointing.

Posted by: anony-mouse at December 12, 2002 09:26 PM

Actually, from an investment standpoint, the presence of a union in a for-profit firm for the most part leads to a reduction in return on investment and productivity. This could be why automotive unions have been abject failures in convincing any transplanted auto assembly facility to unionize - the transplant employees recognize that the death spiral GM has been in for the past 30 years isn't just due to some ugly Buick designs.

And you might want to add the red star and sickle to your sight if you are so quick to demean shareholders. Somebody does have to invest in the firms that get taxed to support a progressive utopia. I'd be all in favor of granting workers salary increased in times of profits, but to do that, they'd have to be just as willing to accept salary cuts in times of loss - just like a shareholder. Unfortunately, most unionzed workforces would decline that proposition, or only accept it the day before their company trudges off to bankruptcy court.

Don't lecture on the value of unions in today's day and age. The riverfront of my hometown is littered with the rusting hulks of steel mills that had active unions - so active in pursuit of high wages and generous benefits that they helped management drive the firms into the ground. Maybe 90 years ago in the days of The Jungle they served a purpose - the problem is, many are still serving the SAME purpose in a different time. Firms have had to change with the times or they have been bankrupted. Too many unions remember Reuther on the bridge and ignore those high quality automobiles coming ashore in LA and Jacksonville.

Posted by: Grant at December 12, 2002 10:21 PM

Don't know which rivers run through Grant's hometown, but I know the mills in my town were brought down as much - if not more - by managerial incompetence as by union greed.
But, Grant does support one of NN's key original points: this is all about fomenting internecine warfare among the working class. Can you get one group of workers to hate another, while the managers and stockholders laugh their way to the bank?

In the 1940s, the USW begged the steel companies to let workers contribute to management decisions about workflow and staffing. But the companies hated the unions, and would never permit the proles such awesome authority. The company would tell which workers could do what work. So those scary stories Galt & Grant love to tell about "waiting for the electrician who was the only one allowed to replace the light bulb"? Don't look to the union - look to the management.

Does Grant think that WalMart is a shining example of how far behind us those awful days of The Jungle are? Do you think a unionized comapny could get away with locking employees in the stores to do unpaid work?

And does Jane think that working as a information technology professional for (relatively) low wages makes her some sort of working class hero? Jane, you will never spend a night in a shelter, and you will never stand on a street corner, hoping a contractor will pull you into his pickup for a day of heavy lifting. You might want to ask yourself why that is (hint: not your own personal virtue).

Posted by: JRoth at December 13, 2002 02:04 PM

Jane Galt:
"Nathan, you need to check your facts. You can't just regurgitate the talking points memo from the transit workers union, any more than I can post the MTA's press releases and expect anyone to take me seriously."

"For one thing, the main thrust of my post was that there is simply no money to pay the unions. It is irrelevant what they make, because the city is facing a 12.5% budget shortfall this year, scheduled to balloon to 15% next year."

Fact checker, check thyself -- and on the most basic of facts.

Transit workers do not work for and are not paid by New York City, and the fiscal woes of the city are pretty much immaterial to the issue of whether their employer -- the Metropolitan Transit Authority -- can afford to pay them more. The MTA is claiming a huge deficit this year, after a huge surplus last year, and with no loss in ridership. Moreover, despite being a public entity, it is refusing to open its books, so its claims can be verified. What does it have to hide? Aside from false claims about an inability to pay, a very top heavy, very overpaid management structure.

So maybe you should do a little research on these matters before you set the pontification gears into motion...


Posted by: Leo Casey at December 13, 2002 02:47 PM

Hey, I think Wal-Mart is a perfect example. Sam Walton took a risk, built a company that has been consistently recognized for its expertise in delivering low cost goods to its customers. So consumers, especially people with lower incomes, can buy stuff cheaper, and society, and yes, even blue collar union families, benefit greatly.

Kmart, a partially unionized competitor, is unable to compete with Wal-mart, and for far more reasons than a difference in labor cost - Wal-Mart's logistics and supplier relationships allow it to consistenly underprice vs. Kmart. Kmart's innovative union doesn't appear to help out too much on this one, and now it stuck in bankruptcy court. And if Wal-mart workers take the money they would have paid in union dues and invested in Wal-mart stock, they'd be very wealthy ($100 invested in WalMart stock when it went public in the 70's would be worth $655,000 today). In addition, Wal-Mart was named one of the 100 best companies to work for by Fortune magazine (of course, I am sure they kept the slave laborers caged up and hidden away in the back of the store during that survey.)

And although there are likely some poor, even idiotic actions by some WalMart managers (employ tens of thousands of people, and you get the good and the bad) that deserve discipline or even criminal prosecution, that by no means should indict every man and woman that works there, just as having federal attorneys monitoring the Teamsters to prevent racketeering doesn't mean that every truck driver is a part-time mobster.

But of course, we should go and get a few working class heroes from the local shelter and put them in charge of Coke, GE, and Gillette. They'd probably hold the fort down longer than than Mr. Skilling did, but not too much longer.

Posted by: Grant at December 13, 2002 03:12 PM

Jane:

Your suggestion that the MTA receives funds from the city budget is, indeed, something from fairyland. It does not. The MTA's sources of income are: (a) riders' fares, which you conveniently forget to mention, despite the MTA management's proposal to raise them rather dramatically and despite the fact that increased ridership has significantly increased the income of the MTA in recent years; (b) income from bridge and tunnel tolls in New York City from the Triborough Tunnel and Bridge Authority [the same folks that owned the WTC]; and (c) state funds. Indeed, the MTA is a creature of the state government, and the governor is the key actor -- as anyone who has carefully read NYC newspapers this last week would know. The mayor is a sideshow, and a not very entertaining one at that. The city can monitor the negotiations all it likes, and it even has legal standing, as a potentially injured party, to seek injunction against a strike, but not a cent of city money goes into the MTA budget.

Since I am doing your research for you, I might as well point out that the NYC mass transit system started out as private operations [thus, the trains that run on the old IRT tracks, the number trains, can not run on the old BMT and IND tracks, as they are of a different gauge], and only became a publicly owned venture after the private owners ran them into the ground, forcing their purchase and operation as a public service. The next time one of your hoity-toity conservative pals tells you about how privatization is a solution to poorly run public services, you can mention the NYC public transit system as a counter-example, thanks to me. [No credit need be given; I debunk shallow arguments on the behalf of laissez-faire markets for the sheer pleasure of it.]

Ignorant of this background, you make much of the fact that the state government provides a portion of the MTA's operating budget. What a horror -- and I am certain that it also bothers you beyond belief that the state government subsidizes [at much higher rates] commuter railroads from the suburbs, airport improvements, and, best of all, roads and highways. Of course, that is all economic infrastructure, which government should subsidize, unlike the primary means of transportation for working people, which is by definition a welfare handout, right?

I am curious about one thing. Since we have here a public entity, supported by public funds [through fares, tolls and taxes], the management of which is not, as you admit, prepared to open its books to public scrutiny, then how do you know that any of the figures they supply and you quote are accurate? A leap of faith in the irreproachable honesty of management? And might you also explain to me what conceivable reason a public corporation, with an economic monopoly on the service it provides, has for refusing to open its books?

Not all the rats in NYC live in the subways. There are quite a few in the penthouses.

Posted by: Leo Casey at December 13, 2002 06:12 PM

Why dont you post the salaries of the union workers,put the cards on the table and lets see how bad off the workers are,I hope you have plenty of cash reserves to pay the stiff fines if you go on strike.

Posted by: Ralph Perna at December 18, 2005 08:30 AM

A fine of 1000000 per day is the equivalent of the annual salary (@$20/hr) of of 24 station agents.

And who in their right mind thinks there is valid arguement to a retirement age of 55 instead of 62?

Posted by: B Donald at December 20, 2005 09:59 PM

And you might want to add the red star and sickle to your sight if you are so quick to demean shareholders. Somebody does have to invest in the firms that get taxed to support a progressive utopia. I'd be all in favor of granting workers salary increased in times of profits, but to do that, they'd have to be just as willing to accept salary cuts in times of loss - just like a shareholder

Actually, shareholders bear the risk of corporate loss only to the extent they finance new investment. 90% of capital in public corporations is internally financed. Sales of common stock have historically provided about 5% of capital expenditures by corporations. And when you consider the fact that corporations usually spend more in an annual period on buybacks than shareholders invest in new equity, shareholders are actually a net drain on capital.

Posted by: Peter at December 21, 2005 11:48 AM

And you might want to add the red star and sickle to your sight if you are so quick to demean shareholders. Somebody does have to invest in the firms that get taxed to support a progressive utopia. I'd be all in favor of granting workers salary increased in times of profits, but to do that, they'd have to be just as willing to accept salary cuts in times of loss - just like a shareholder

Actually, Grant, shareholders directly bear the risk of corporate loss only to the extent they finance new investment. 90% of capital in public corporations is internally financed. Sales of common stock have historically provided about 5% of capital expenditures by corporations. And when you consider the fact that corporations usually spend more in an annual period on buybacks than shareholders invest in new equity, shareholders are actually a net drain on capital.

Posted by: Peter at December 21, 2005 11:50 AM

'Our best hope may be that unemployed New Yorkers take to hunting down transit workers and pounding some sense into them.'

The quote above is the most telling and important part of the article. It shows what lies at the heart of neoconservatism, and in the hearts of those who espouse it _ their sadistic contempt and potential for violence against their fellow loyal Americans with whom they disagree. This is the future we face, folks. Blogging is not going to help. We may have to physically fight, or take a beating if we choose nonviolent civil disobedience. Are you ready? The American Civil War never really ended. It's just that 'the South' has become a concept and diffused throughout the country _ see the Confederate flags, which are really nothing more than American swastikas, on cars of Michigan and Illinois natives, listen to the faux Southern accents of people in Washington state and Oregon. This time the boundaries are ideological, not geographical. And this time, we of 'the North,' along with the working class in general, are all seen as inferior slaves who should know our place. And this time, we will have no place to escape to. Get ready.

Posted by: Dean at December 27, 2005 05:42 AM

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