NEW YORK—To passersby this morning it may have looked like another MTA strike. About 25 MTA employees paced a blocked-off section of Madison Ave, holding signs with slogans like “Respect your Workers with a Contract” and “The MTA Can Pay”.
Across the street from the demonstration, the MTA board of directors was voting on its $13.5 billion budget for the 2014 fiscal year.
Transit Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 President John Samuelsen spoke at the board meeting.
“We’re certainly not looking for the stars. We’re merely looking for raises that keep up with the cost of living,” he told board members.
MTA workers’ contracts expired in January 2012. Next month will mark two years since those contracts expired. MTA workers are asking for wages that keep up with inflation, but said the board will only grant a pay rise if workers agree to concessions, such as cutbacks to health insurance, overtime payments, and pensions.
“Despite a nearly $2 billion projected budget surplus over the next four years, the MTA indefensibly remains glued to their position that transit workers accept a concessionary package,” Samuelsen said.
Samuelsen brought a stack of about 30,000 signatures to the rally, the majority from MTA riders who supported a pay rise for MTA workers.
In September, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli pointed to $1.9 billion in savings the MTA had made through “lower pension contributions, energy costs, debt service, health insurance costs and higher tax revenues,” CBS reported.
The MTA board of directors approved its budget on Wednesday. After the meeting, MTA CEO Tom Prendergast declined to comment on how much of that would go to the unions. He said he would continue to meet union representatives privately to discuss labor contracts.
Roughly 300,000 New York City’s employees are in the same boat as MTA staff, with expired contracts, some since 2009. Bloomberg came to a stalemate with the unions over the specifics of the contracts and now the unions say they are waiting to negotiate with the mayor-elect Bill de Blasio. De Blasio said he would consider offering city employees backpay, but probably not the full amount, which is an estimated $7 billion to $8 billion.
Holly Kellum is a special correspondent in New York.