labor

Labor Unites to Slam MTA as Tempers Flare Amid Strike Threat

Transit union leader John Samuelsen talks about ongoing labor disputes with the MTA regarding overtime pay, May 16, 2019.
Transit union leader John Samuelsen talks about ongoing labor disputes with the MTA regarding overtime pay, May 16, 2019. Photo: Jose Martinez /THE CITY

Ticked-off transit workers added some muscle Thursday to their brewing labor battle against the MTA.

The New York City Central Labor Council fired off a resolution accusing the transit agency of declaring “a war on working people” by sending MTA police officers to monitor potential overtime abuses by Long Island Rail Road Workers.

The strong words came as workers’ contract with the MTA expired this week amid threats of a strike.

“The MTA started this whole issue, this whole dispute, by making accusations against its own workforce,” Vincent Alvarez, president of the Council, an umbrella group representing 1.3 million unionized workers, told THE CITY.

“Workers are told when to report to work and they’re told when to go home,” Alvarez said. “That’s management’s decision.”

The “condemning” resolution accuses MTA Chairman Patrick Foye and board member Larry Schwartz, a confidante of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, of pulling a “raw and calculated stunt” when they called a board meeting last Friday to address rising overtime.

The contentious session followed an Empire Center for Public Policy report flagging a 16% spike in MTA overtime costs last year.

John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union and an MTA board member, told THE CITY his strike threat is “totally serious.”

“That’s not bluster,” he said.

Governor Charges ‘Fraud and Theft’

Cuomo on Sunday railed against “fraud and theft and criminality” at the MTA, saying the authority’s management should have long ago put an end to billing for excessive overtime costs.

Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks about his accomplishments during an Association for a Better New York luncheon at Cipriani Wall Street, April 4, 2019.
Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks about his accomplishments during an Association for a Better New York luncheon at Cipriani Wall Street, April 4, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Samuelsen blamed the police monitoring of LIRR workers, a string of recent assaults on transit workers and “broad accusations of overtime fraud” for the cranked-up rhetoric from union leaders.

“Put all that into a cauldron where transit workers already dislike their employer and you can see how the potential is there for a strike,” Samuelsen said. “They’ve pissed off rank-and-file transit workers so much that this could easily spin out of control.”

Transit workers walked off the job for two-and-a-half days in 2005, a strike that cost the union $2.5 million in fines for breaking the Taylor Law that bars public employees from striking.

“The New York City labor movement is going to support any of our unions fighting for its members,” said Alvarez.

He added that MTA management has reduced the workforce and also eliminated overtime caps for New York City Transit workers during its last round of collective bargaining.

“So it’s the height of hypocrisy to come out and attack transit workers,” Alvarez said.

Foye has launched investigations into MTA overtime claims over the last year and also called for the MTA’s inspector general to again look into overtime abuse.

Maxwell Young, an MTA spokesperson, said in a statement: “Chairman Foye has been crystal clear that overtime is necessary for emergencies and urgent projects to improve the system, and our employees are heroes for doing this difficult work, but overtime abuse is illegal and unacceptable and should be rooted out.”

Sign up for “THE CITY Scoop,” our daily newsletter where we send you stories like this first thing in the morning.

Want to republish this story? See our republication guidelines.