Thursday, December 15, 2005

MTA, Going Our Way?

Most of the press coverage of the pending transit strike has been redolent with anti-union bias. This does not mean that we are supporters of a labor stoppage should that unfortunate situation come to pass. It does mean, however, that there are issues about the nature of the MTA, its governance and lack of public accountability, that need to be discussed because they are important contributing factors to the current impasse.

Now in the interests of full disclosure it needs to be pointed out that the Alliance's Richard Lipsky worked for Local 100 and helped to establish the inordinately successful Keep the Token Booths Open Coalition in 2001. This group was eventually composed of over 110 civic and community groups. The Coalition's efforts were instrumental in the successful legal challenge mounted by Local 100 against the MTA's original move to close all of the subway token booths.

The current situation needs to be examined from the standpoint of the credibility of the MTA. That is why we were pleased to read Andrea Peyser's column in this morning's NY Post. Peyser, no knee-jerk union sympathizer, went down under and interviewed straphangers. She found that most were critical of the MTA brass and supportive of the workers, even though a strike would greatly inconvenience the folks she talked to.

The Peyser money quote: "It seems to me that the MTA has an awful lot of money that they are sitting on," said Rory Ryan, an engine-room supervisor for NBC...They screwed us with a fare hike two years ago. Then, six weeks later, turns out they're sitting on a half-billion-dollar surplus!"

The MTA, as a public authority (yes, the same kind of entity that Robert Moses used to such profound effect many years ago) is largely unaccountable to the people it is meant to serve. This is especially true when said authority is a creature of the State of New York yet it is presiding over policy issues that impact the City of New York.

This is precisely the kind of governing structure-Board of Education anyone?-that creates unnecessary barriers against true democratic accountability. As Peyser concludes, "A strike would spell disaster. I think the union should be stopped. But remember that this bed was made by the MTA brass, and the glutinous suits should be thrown out into the cold."