By Todd Maisel
As the MTA board met at 2 Broadway in Lower Manhattan, they were in earshot of employees of the Amalgamated Transit Union joined by their brother transit unions in demanding a new contract for their bus drivers that include parity in base pay with the larger Transit Workers Union that settled before the pandemic.
Their demands have been hampered by a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall at the MTA due to the COVID-19 pandemic in which few people used mass transit and therefore, less money came into the system to pay workers.
The negotiations have stalled, union leaders said, after they say they were called” heroes” by the MTA leadership, but are being offered “zeroes in the new contract negotiations.”
On Wednesday, scores of transit workers from ATU and supporting union president massed outside MTA headquarters and shouted their dismay. They demanded that the MTA offer ATU workers the same new, higher-paying contract received by the city’s largest transit union earlier this year.
“We appreciate the hard work that ATU members and all of our employees have been performing throughout the pandemic, and we thank them for their service and dedication. Given the monumental challenges the MTA is facing as a result of the pandemic – a $10.4 billion projected deficit through 2021 – we are reevaluating our budget and bargaining position at this time,” MTA spokesman Tim Minton said. “Virtually all MTA priorities and operating payments are dependent on Congress delivering significant federal funding in any future relief package. We will continue to engage in discussions with our unions regarding our financial outlook and to provide them a clear understanding of the MTA’s financial position.”
“We do the same jobs, we drive the same buses, and transport the same passengers of the city of New York, but one driver gets paid more than the other driver gets paid,” said Michael Cordiello, President of the ATU local 1181. “One driver has a better pension than the other drivers. There should be no reason why there should be that separation. We should never give our heroes zeros.”
Cordiello said they drive the same vehicles, do the same job and yet, “the MTA is telling us they can’t give us the same wages.”
Backing ATU was Tony Utano, president of TWU Local 100. He joined with other presidents, pointing out that 120 transit workers have died of COVID-19 and still “went to work.” He said many more were sick from the virus they caught on the job.
“There has always been pattern bargaining, always parity, always a pattern, but this year they aren’t,” Utano said. “They supposedly budgeted this and they know what they gave TWU and that goes to other locals.”
“They do same exact job we do, we all work for MTA, we are all union, and that’s why we support each other,” Utano said. “They don’t have any money,” Cut back on consultants, cut back where you’re spending money, and give people who were out on pandemic and still working to move the city what they deserve – a contract.”
Mark Henry, Chair, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) NYS Legislative Conference Board & President/Business Agent, ATU Local 1056 said the MTA refuses to negotiate.
“We should get the same contract, but were told ‘we can’t bargain with you at this time’ and that is unacceptable,” said Henry. “We are here to make sure the safety of our members and the riding public is taking care of and they are shown the dignity and respect they deserve by guaranteeing the wages received by Local 100 and also to the ATU locals including 1179 and 1181, 726 and my local 1056. We should be treated fairly and given equal wages for an equal days work. I want to see the transit authority come to the table and settle these agreements with these locals we are int he middle of a pandemic and we are doing the same job so we should be paid the same.”
The MTA board met today where they briefly discussed the contract talks, but they also said the transit system faces multi-billion deficits moving forward because of the extreme loss of riders during the height of the pandemic and the failure of riders to return to the system because of continuing fears.
As the rally proceeded, workers chanted, “M-T-A. It’s time to pay.” “Who moves this city? We move this city?” “They call us heroes, they offer us zeroes.”