Thursday, April 25, 2024

Union Power

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“Talking Transportation”

By Jim Cameron

In perhaps no other industry than transportation does organized labor have so much power.  And those unions are getting aggressive in their demands.

The 340,000 members of the Teamsters that work for UPS are now voting on a new contract giving them better wages and working conditions.  Under the proposal those big brown delivery trucks would finally get air conditioning, essential in such a strenuous job and an era of global warming.

Less lucky were the 22,000 Teamsters who worked for 99 year old Yellow Trucking. That firm has gone bankrupt, the victim not of union demands but debts the company built up over a 20 year acquisition effort as it gobbled up smaller trucking firms.  The drivers who lost their jobs may find work but it may not be in union companies.

That friendly Amazon driver who delivers your packages?  He’s neither a union member nor an Amazon employee, despite what his uniform and truck may say.  Amazon outsources its “last-mile deliveries” to third-party companies paying drivers about $19 an hour vs the $49 an hour senior UPS drivers can earn.  Given its recent victory at UPS, it’s thought the Teamsters may next target Amazon to organize.

And then, there’s Metro-North…

The railroad has dozens of unions representing its 5000 employees but it’s the 600+ member Transport Workers Union that is warning us of a possible strike.  The union, which represents car inspectors, coach cleaners and mechanics has been without a contract since 2019 and says MTA management is dragging its heels on a new contract.

The union has entered mediation through the Railroad Labor Act but says the first round did not go well.  Under New York State law the union does have the right to strike and that would pretty much halt train service.  But the effect of that might be far less in these post-COVID times as we’ve all learned how to WFH (work from home).

This labor unrest comes as the MTA admits it paid $1.3 billion in overtime last year.  About 1100 of its employees doubled their salaries with OT.  There are mechanics and MTA cops taking home over $300,000 due to extra duty.  Under their contracts, available overtime must first be offered to the most senior (and highest paid) staffers so those veterans, closest to retirement, are raking it in.

Speaking of retirement, CDOT admits it is still understaffed by about 200 badly-needed employees after a wave of long-anticipated retirements of senior staffers.  This comes just as a gusher of infrastructure money is coming our way, which needs engineers and planners to implement.

The problem is the agency can’t recruit new engineers and mechanics as it’s competing against major employers in the state like General Dynamics’ Electric Boat.  Even if CDOT can find a new person, “archaic hiring rules” at the Department of Administrative Services mean that person must wait seven to 13 months to get them on the job and on the payroll.

Who’s going to do that… wait a year to take a lower-paying job?

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. His weekly column “Talking Transportation” is archived here.  You can contact Jim at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.”

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