I'm surprised how much anti-union sentiment among people who describe themselves as liberals has been provoked by the transit strike here in New York. This post and thread on TPM Cafe has quite a bit of it (although some of it is clearly from Republican trolls), and today Kevin Drum (who is not anti-union) posted some qualms.
I have to say that I, personally, did not hear anyone blaming the TWU for the stike. Everyone was inconvenienced, of course, and annoyance ran hot and cold, but no one that I heard was lashing out at the union. On MyDD, a SUSA poll showed the 52% of people supported the union, and only 40% supported the MTA.
In online discussions, people's objections seem to be:
$55,000, the median wage for TWU workers, is a decent living wage.
New York City is one of the most expensive cities to live in. Mercer Resource Consulting ranked as the 12th most expensive city in the world with Tokyo at number one, London at number two and Moscow at number three. In 2003, New York was ranked ten but due to currency fluctuations between the dollar and the Euro, 1:1, 0.8:1, European cities have surged to the top. Within the United States, New York remains the most expensive city with Los Angeles at twenty-seven and Chicago at thirty-five. The median income of a New York is $60,765, $10,000 more than the national median. Based on a US average at an index of 100.0, the overall cost of living in New York is 189.1. Housing is almost triple the national average at $314,000 for a house and $2,483.64 for one months rent of a two bedroom apartment. Secondary education is about $2,000 more than the national average at $7,428. Utilities, including electricity and gas, are almost twice the national index at 179.9. Food and groceries is about 1.5x the nation's index at 142.5. A mere cup of coffee with table service is $5.48 while in Buenos Aires, ranked 141st, the same service costs $1.10. In fact, despite attaining a lower ranking than cities like London and Tokyo, one thing remains the most expensive in New York, phone service for one month at $25.99. The cheapest city surveyed by Mercer Resource Consulting was Pittsburgh ranked 112th. According to the index, a person who earns $50,000 in Pittsburgh will need $97,9776 in New York. Overall, New York City is two-times as expensive as any other city in the United States.
This means that the $55,000 earned by a TWU worker in New York is the equivalent of a worker earning $28,000 in Pittsburg -- hardly a comfortable middle-class income, considering the 2005 Federal poverty threshhold for a family of four is $19,350.
Many argue that the Federal poverty threshold is too low, and this 2000 report calculates what is called a "Self-Sufficiency Standard", which:
defines the amount of income required to meet basic needs (including paying taxes) in the regular “marketplace” without public or private/informal subsidies. The Standard, therefore, determines the level of income necessary for a given family—whether working now or making the transition to work—to be independent of welfare and/or other public or private subsidies. By providing a measure that is customized to each family’s circumstances, i.e., taking account of where they live, and how old their children are, the Self-Sufficiency Standard makes it possible to determine if a family’s income is enough to meet their basic needs.
According to this standard, the monthly self-sufficiency wage for 2 adults with 2 kids (a preschooler and a schoolage kid) in New York City is (by county):
Bronx - $4,006 per month ($48,072 per year) Brooklyn - $4,107 ($49,284) Lower Manhattan - $6,328 ($75,936) Upper Manhattan - $4,373 ($52,476) Staten Island - $4,248 ($50,976)
(I live in lower Manhattan, and the $76k figure seems about right to me. I've estimated that it takes about $100,000 a year to be comfortably middle class in Manhattan.)
The bottom line is, however high it might sound in the rest of the country, $55,000 is not in any way, shape, or form an exorbitant wage for New York City.
TWU workers can retire at 55 after 25 years on the job.
To begin to understand why this is appropriate, read this post by a TWU worker, then add the fact that other municipal unions (fire, police, sanitation) have the same retirement age, and that in the last negotiation with the teachers, Bloomberg promised to support them when they went to the legislator looking to lower their retirement age to 55. So when the MTA attempted to change the retirement age to 62 for new workers (taking back for new workers what had previously been negotiated for current ones), not only is that a de facto pay cut for those workers, but it denies the TWU parity with other municipal workers.
Besides, as a commenter on Washington Monthly points out, $27,000 a year in New York isn't exactly living the life of riley. (The $19,350 national poverty threshold translates into something like $38k in New York). So retired TWU workers aren't living large off their pensions.
I certainly hope that the anti-union remarks in this thread are coming from Republican trolls and not from "new Democrats", because if this is what our party is heading towards, we are well and truly fucked in this country. We may as well hand it over to Bush & Company lock stock and barrel permanently, if the Democrats are going to govern with the lack of empathy and antipathy towards working class Americans that's been demonstrated here. Frankly, I find it disgusting, and a betrayal of what our party is supposed to represent.
I am a New York City Transit Worker. One of the reason i accepted this job was because of the benefits and the retirement age. Do any of you know that the average life expectancy of a retired transit is no more than 6 years after retirement. We once were able to retire at 50 and at least enjoy a good package. Now it is 55. But MTA wants it to become a 30 yr, 62 age limit. Do u know why? Because we don't live as long as other jobs in the private sector. So if we retire later and work more years for MTA the 6 yr average may drop. Do u know that every day when i blow my nose there is steel dust in my mucous. I never had allegeries until i became a transit worker. i never had asthma until i became a transit worker. I have never been attacked until i became a transit worker. i never had to deal with rats as big as cats or roaches that are bigger than your average house roach. lol. Forget about the restroom conditions. A blind man would not go in there. Since we work in the most horrible conditions we accept the fact that we may be ruining our health and our life expectancy for the chance to retire a little earlier and enjoy the money alitte.
BTW, there's an awful lot of Kevin Drum-bashing going on in the comments to his post on this issue, which I think is totally uncalled for, and definitely not in the holiday spirit.
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