Un transit

New York transit is on strike. I won’t be able to go to work today, like millions of others, who also won’t be able to shop or go to restaurants. The city will lose hundreds of millions and untold millions will lose millions in turn. And what for?

Every indsutry in the U.S. economy has had to go through radical restructuring to find new efficiencies. But not government and civil service. And that is what this strike is about.

The transit union was demanding that its workers be able to retire at 55 on pension, and the city, which wanted to raise the age for new workers to 62, buckled last night. I don’t have a pension, do you? I have a 401K, one for every employer in the last 20 years; I’m sure most of you are in similar boats. Retire at 55? Ha!

At the same time, the union has been insistent about maintaining artificial, wasteful, expensive manning levels. In most other cities, subways are run by one person. In New York, they are run by two. In many other cities, when electronic ticketing machines are introduced, staffing in booths is drastically reduced. Here, it was a big deal that the booth workers got out of the booth to actually answer questions… if you can find them.

The Times gives us a touchy-feely sympathetic piece about the poor transit workers this morning, quoting a tender-hearted sociologist:

“The working conditions are more physically onerous, the treatment by managers more disrespectful, and the abuse from the public more hurtful, than any other group of public workers in the city experiences,” Dr. Swerdlow said.

What a load of crap. We’re an abusive, hurtful public — otherwise known as their customers. How about the abusive, sadistic conductors sand dispatchers who shut doors and move out just as transferring passengers arrive in a station? They have more of an ability to irritate more people in one day than anyone I know and I’ve seen too many of them do it too often.

The union broke the law this morning, costing New Yorkers their own pay and businesses their business and the city its tax resources so that its members could keep pensions that most Americans don’t have and retire sooner than most Americans could dream of doing and keep inefficient jobs for which there is no need.

Thank you for not riding the New York City subway. Have a rotten day.

: Lots of bloggers are stranded by the transit strike. This will be like babies in a blackout: lots of blog posts will be born.

: There is always another use for CraigsList: NYC ride sharing. [via Gothamist]

  • Capitalistic scabs like you make me sick. You are probably a fan of Bushco imperialism too. We need anohter revoloution in this country, to replace corporate rule with a system (like the unions) which helps workers against you WallMartGoods.

  • @SocialJustice – Personal indignity is no way to change the world…

    Here in Germany, new workers are doomed to work till age 67 before they’ll get a pension. The gross thing about it is, the unemployment rate is so unbeliving high that most people will be on social sequrity when they get to that age… and thats not much for living in Germany.

  • Can’t the city get a bid from another service? That way you can hire and fire as you get good or bad service… yes, I’m joking, but maybe you could trade with Boston, or Philly, or Japan.

  • Well, Social, can we throw in any more cant and cliches? How about attacking me for talking about manning rules: didn’t I mean personing rules? Are those transit uniforms made in sweatshops?

  • Right of Center


    An anti-democratic revolution is truly about the only way extreem leftism can ever become public policy in this country. What does that say about the ideology?

    The strikers are breaking the law. There should be consequences to breaking the law…

  • Bruce from Alta California

    Unions are the only defense workers have against bad management. If you want to get rid of unions, change the corporate culture and they will wither and die.

    When the union broke the law during the great Pullman Porter strike, the government brought in the national guard and started shooting people. We have made some progress in the last century.

  • Victor

    This guy seems to get it:

    I do not understand why unions aren’t considered illegal cartels. If I wanted to become a subway train driver, I could not do so without first joining the union, whether I wanted to pay the union dues or not. What’s the difference between that and being forced to pay protection money to the mafia? In either case, the mob or the union “protects” me (or my job), whether I want the protection or not.

    Similarly, if a group of merchants got together to decide that they’re going to sell gasoline at $10 a gallon, it would be considered illegal collusion, and the merchants would be prosecuted. So why can individuals band together to fix prices for labor? They are in effect merchants of their work, and they’re colluding, via the union, to subvert the free market and set artificially high prices for what they are selling. And they are now effectively extorting the entire City of New York in order to ensure the perpetuation of their monopoly on the transit labor market.

    It’s too bad that neither Mayor Bloomberg nor Governor Pataki have the power or the backbone to do what President Reagan did when PATCO–the (former) air traffic controllers union–went on strike. If the transit workers don’t want to show up and drive the trains, then the MTA should be free to hire people who do.

  • Right of Center


    “…would wither and die?”

    I am a forced member of such an esteemed body known as a “union”. I am forced to join, forced to pay dues, forced to make contrubitions to political causes I disagree with, forced to pay for “deligates” to attend “conventions” in places like Hawaii, the list goes on…..

    In my 15 years of membership I have seen our union (and others) fully engaged headlong in “withering and die[ing]” from largely self-infliced wounds. I only wish for that day to be hastened….

  • Tim

    Bruch should get off his high horse. Before he continues his silly little rant about the evil Pinkertons, etc., he should be aware that nearly all of the violence over the last 50 years has been by unions:

    “At Least 203 Americans Killed Since 1975: According to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILRR), more than 10,000 incidents of union violence have been reported in America’s newspapers, and on television and radio, since 1975. But media-reported union violence constitutes only the tip of the iceberg. Samplings of police and company records collected by NILRR and other scholars indicate that 80-90% of violent union incidents are never reported in the media.

    When combined, reported and unreported incidents of union vandalism, assault and battery, arson, and even murder may number over 100,000! Union violence hits communities across America and wreaks a staggering toll in personal injury, property damage, lost work, and lost production.”

    Read MORE here: http://www.nrtwc.org/fuva109.pdf

  • Dishman

    I’ve worked with transit agencies at a variety of levels.
    It seems to me that the (unionized) people who were really competent and actually enjoyed their work were constantly running up against union rules. It appeared that enjoying work was against union rules.

    I’ve only known a small number of shop stewards, but all of them had pissy attitudes.

    If unions make work unpleasant, are they really a benefit to anyone?

  • Catherine

    Are unions really all bad? I’m not saying that I agree with either or the other side in this particular case, but I’m wondering what would happen to workers in general if there were no unions? I seriously doubt managers would be keeping in mind the best interests of the workers–just look at WalMart. I will say that unions in their current form are probably outdated and need to be rethought. But I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  • Tim

    How many working people in NYC are going to be hurt today? How many poor people? A poor man might lose his wages for today, and not be able to feed his family…so that some unproductive person can get a free retirment?

    Basic economics shows that unions increase unemployment. Unions keep some workers unemployed (mostly single-moms, women and minorities) so other workers (with political power) can profit.

    I thought people understood that monopolies are bad…why do we tolerate them in our labor force? And especially with our vital public services? People everywhere should be outraged.

  • Couldn’t agree with you more. Inconveniences are one thing, economic impact at Holiday season is another. Here’s my take, with some photos.

  • First I can’t believe Jeff even responded to that Commi.

    Second, can anyone send me a link to see the exact wages of MTA workers? I mean how much do token collectors and janitors make?

    If I were running a newspaper I would have have these listed on the front page. But alas I don’t and for decades the MSM print media has sanitized and suppressed the realities of union politics because they are Commi-sympathizers.

    I must have spent an hour googling trying to find the wages of philly transit workers when they struck- to no avail. The wage and benefit info should be plastered all over the place to educate the public and turn opinion so against them that pols have the spine to crush these unions.

    (Oh yeah, you lefties….. all of your politicians reap serious $ from these unions so you have an extremely diminished right to complain about the inconvenience. In transit strikes, is Chuck Shumer really on the side of the “little guy” or on the side that lines his political coffers? Is Hillary going to condemn the law-breaking union?)

    They won’t pay 1% towards their healthcare? Give me a break.

    Down at Myrtle Beach there are tons of 43 year old “retired” nyc workers. They did their 20 years and taxpayers will be paying them and for their healthcare for probably another 40 years at least.

  • I am a member of a union. I also am a regular rider of the MTA. While reading this please remember that the 40 hour work week that you enjoy, along with sick days and vaction time were all won by unions and their members. The entire country has benefited from the wars that unions have fought.

    My union has a pension. We can retire at 62. We have be paying for 30% of our benefits for approx. 10 years. Yes it’s expensive but the other option was to not have benefits. That’s right the whole company of 500 were going to loose their benefits if we didn’t do this. I think that the TWU is wrong. Strike if the MTA tries to keep the subways affordable to the city? We can’t afford retirement at 55. People are living to 85 not 60 when the pension plan was put into effect.

    Don’t think the MTA is going to get off easy either. What kind of management is crying for an fare increase one year and has a $1 BILLION surplus the next? They have utterly failed as being effective management and ALL should be fired. They get paid to much to make those kind of mistakes. The MTA wants major changes for their members. They should pay for them.

  • Scooby

    From Bloomberg.com:
    “Subway operators earned an average of $62,438 a year, including overtime, under the previous three-year contract, which expired at midnight New York time, the MTA said.
    Train conductors averaged $53,000, subway booth clerks $50,720, and bus drivers $62,551, the state agency said. The MTA wasn’t immediately able to provide the average amount of overtime.”

    I haven’t seen anything more detailed than this, which is disappointing.

  • How odd. And I thought my salary and vacation and sick time and 50-60 hour work-week was won by ME and my own efforts.

    How weird that I spent so much time working hard, getting an education, developing skills to win my salary, vacation and sick time, when I could have just paid dues and had those things through threats and political power.

    I should tell my kids not go to college or work hard, because we have unions and Citygerl who can steal them a living.

    Let’s give all these strikers a hand today. Shutting a city down and making other suffer is how you get ahead, not through pleasing customers or working hard to produce things that other people want.

  • ed

    As someone who had to walk an excruciating 30 minutes to work this morning, all I can say is give me a break. The MTA is the most mismanaged, incompetent transit system I have ridden. They can scream and shout all they want about not caving to the union but from the look of things the majority of New Yorkers sympathize with the transit workers and hey, this is what happens when a privately run organization is given free reign by the city with no fear of competition.

  • Thanks Scooby. I wonder if that includes benefits.

  • ed

    Again, if all it takes is an MTA worker strike to shut this city down, well that says more about how the city and transit systems are managed than the TWU.

  • Right of Center


    This is an illegal strike. They hope to gain by committing illegal acts. You support illegal activity for personal gain? Don’t ethics matter in your conception of community?

    It is fine if you want to give credit to unions for the seven day work week and such. Fine. But to whom do we give the credit for creating the job in the first place? Unions?

  • SO in NYC

    This is all certainly a horrible thing for us living in New York City. However, I can’t help but feel compassion for some of those laborers for the MTA. Many of them never went to college; I know one personally who is in his 40s, never graduated from high school, and doesn’t have the hardheadedness to stand up to the union and I think that there are many other people in the similar boat.

    I believe that for each day of the strike, workers lose 2 days of pay (although I’m not sure if there’s any way for them to get around that, such as by showing up at work in the morning and showing your face) and many of them can’t afford that.

    This will almost certainly result in a deminished level of respect in which the public views MTA workers. Because of what? Because the union bullys its workers around.

  • It has been very sad to see unions being so short-term and self-focused. In their heyday, they we incredible agents for social change and enacting social justice. However, throughout most of my lifetime, most unions have had the most self-centered actions; this strike being key. It serves nobody other than the union members, and even them not well. Most likely, like many of the recent union actions, it will back-fire and they will lose more than they may gain. Plus, each silly strike like this one exemplifies how far away from the average person the union leadership has come. Until they reclaim their progressive roots and develop a long-term focus, they’ll continue to go from joke to irrelevant.

  • Tim

    Ed forgets who actually shut the system down, acting like babies while hurting real people. Clearly the union can’t be trusted with vital public services. NYC needs to fire the union for incompetence. They should fire the strikers, crack the monopoly of the union and then rehire the competent workers back. True, it would better to have real competition for public services. But it wasn’t the MTA in this case that shut down the system, was it?

  • Right of Center, a great many things have been accomplished by deliberately violating unjust laws. Of course, one’s definition of “unjust” is rather subjective. As long as they’re willing to pay the consequences (if a law is unjust, it’s enforcement will bring that out for all to see).

    Yes, the progressive moment should be credited for the legally enforced 40 hour work week (or, better put, mandating this whole “time and 1/2,” etc, overtime pay business). Where you are dead-on, Right, is job creation. It’s hard to point out to where jobs have been created by union actions. However, it is easy to see where union activity has actually caused job loss.

  • Tim

    I should also add that the mission and purpose of the city and the transit service is NOT to give union people jobs.

    It’s purpose, it’s job, is to serve the public — it’s customers. It hires people to SERVE THE PUBLIC. The people it hired, the strikers, are not holding their end of the bargain. In fact, they are HURTING the very public which pays their wages.

  • Tim

    Carl: I agree with James. Most people’s benefits. are the result of their own hard work and innovation, not through any political “movement.” We shouldn’t marginlize this aspect.

  • Citygerl

    James & Right of Center,

    The standard 5 day work week and child labor laws were won in the 1910 – 1940’s. Remember your social studies classses from high school?

    Individually I certainly hope that you and your children get the proper training to do whatever it is that you do, but to think that there is no standard or reference point is absurd. Your hours are based on history.

    “I think that the TWU is wrong. Strike if the MTA tries to keep the subways affordable to the city?” is a direct quote from my last post. What didn’t you understand? I said the union was wrong…oh maybe you don’t know the initials of the union involved, TWU.

    They are both wrong. When you go into negotiations you don’t expect to get everything you want. You compromise. The question to the union now is we now know what you’re willing to go on strike for, what will it take for you to go back to work? I wonder how many union members realize even with out the Taylor law penalites that 1 week of strike is equal to about 4% of salary. That effectively wipes out any raise they would get in the first year.

  • Civil Service and Union

    Unions are no worse or better than their members. I agree that the transit unions are suicidal. If I am not insane, many execs are looking for any place away from big cities to work. Telecommuting or finding not-easy-to-find-from-an-airplane small towns.

    Without unions we are serfs. But the unions made of idiots are worse than no unions.

  • ed

    Tim seems to think that thousands of New Yorkers would willingly sign up for non-union work for the MTA. Even if the transit system could find the employees, givin the way the MTA manages the system it would only be a matter of time before these new workers formed there own union. The system is sick, and it starts with the management. Again, I am willing to bet the majority of New Yorkers, the public the TWU members were hired to serve, sympathize with the strikers. We have been putting up with the MTA’s bullshit for far too long.

  • Tim

    Citygerl: It’s pretty sick that you marginalize people’s hard work and educations and skills and professionalism. I know my kids (when I have them) won’t get “proper” training like dogs. Instead they will think for themselves…and see the type of people which make up the union movement for themselves. Your comment speaks volumes for everything wrong with labor unions.

  • Tim

    ed: You don’t burn a village to save it. The issue here is the striking and shutting down the system. Millions of people will be hurt because of the actions of a few thousand. Such actions need to be dealt with.

  • Exactly, Citgerl! The middle class owes its very existence to organized labor. Of course unions can overreach and become corrupt just as management can, but without that balance of power we’d all be working sunrise to sunset seven days a week, with maybe a few hours off on the holidays. There’s probably not one person on this comment thread who isn’t a direct beneficiary of generations of hard-won struggle for better working conditions and a shorter work-week. You want to live like your rugged noble non-union forebears? Try applying for a job at your local Wal*Mart or food service joint and see how long you last.

    How interesting that the middle class’s fortunes have steadily declined as the overall percentage of unionized labor in the United States has shrunk to under 16%. There’s been a steady anti-union bias in every Presidential administration since Reagan and a relentless stream of agitprop from the media painting unions as the root of all evil in the modern workplace, when in fact the power and influence of labor is at all all-time low since the turn of the *last* century. Perhaps the fault lies elsewhere, hmm?

  • ed

    Nevertheless, it is never going to solve the problem. This is the system working itself out. How insane is it that Manhattan can be the epicenter of a global economy and rely on a handful of bridges and one poor, poor transit system.

  • Having lived in Philly, Boston, and NYC my experience is that the MTA is much much better run than Boston’s or Philly’s transit system. In fact it is not even close.

    Blaming MTA’s management, touting 40 year old accomplishments of unions, and lamenting “uneducated” union workers as bullied victims completely misses the point.

    The strike is illegal and the union’s political payola scheme is fundamentally corrupt.

  • It is astounding the level of ignorence here on the economic history of the United States. What kind of arrogant fool would say the “middle class owes its very existence to organized labor”? It’s a slap in the face to all working people.

    The middle class is middle class because the nation is wealthier…they are middle-class because they can afford cars, computers, iPods, flat-screen TVs, etc. And why can they afford these? Because the cost to produce these things was decreased though smart investments into better machines, education, inventions, computers, etc. and because Americans in years past worked their asses off and saved money to make things better for their families.

    Children in the US don’t work because of the corrupt “labor” movement, they go to school because their parents can afford for them to instead go to school. The parents worked hard and creative and built the machines which built the cars, which helped build the computers, which helped build universities and iPods and transit trains and high schools. Unions are worthless at best and harmful at worst. There is a reason why unions are going out of business, and it has everythign to do with with corruption and laziness.

  • I love reading this blog, but every so often Jeff’s posts shake people out of the woodwork who look at the world completely differently than I. Organized labor is great. If not for the union my father was a member of, and the pay raises and so on his organization was able to secure for its members while I was growing up, I’d be working a grain silo in South Dakota. If you’re down on unions, I have to believe you’re a little bit brain washed.

    But civil servants are a different case, right? These people in the NY transit system signed contracts agreeing they’ll never strike because of the community services they provide.

  • ed

    Seriously, given the recent histories of the TWU and the MTA, calling the union corrupt is borderline insane.

  • Tim, though in today’s world, people’s efforts do play a significant role in their rewards, historically that has not been the case. The work week and benefits that we enjoy and expect today were not the rewards of hardwork, but of union actions and government intervention. That is not meant to “marginalize people’s hard work and educations and skills and professionalism,” but acknowledge a historical imbalance of power and the hard work (with the risking of their lives) that union organizers went through.

  • Tim

    Brainwashing is costing a city and its people millions of dollars, and then getting them to thank you for it.

  • ed

    It’s clear that the MTA provides more services than the Boston and Philadelphia systems, no one is arguing that, though the recent upkeep problems resulting in fires might change that perception. However, these services are managed very poorly and inefficiently, regardless of worker issues.

  • Right of Center

    “I love reading this blog, but every so often Jeff’s posts shake people out of the woodwork who look at the world completely differently than I.”

    that’s a good thing, no? NPR’s not everything, you know!

  • Right of Center

    p.s. I mean, other points of view are precisely the way to avoid brainwashing, no?

  • Hey WorkingPerson,

    Didn’t you read Ed. He claimed:

    “the majority of New Yorkers…..sympathize with the strikers.”


    “We have been putting up with the MTA’s bullshit for far too long. ”

    You see all we have to do is PAY THE WORKERS MORE and the trains will run better.

    Reminds me of the deficit. If we just raise taxes on the rich it will magically disappear. (sarcasm)

  • Carl must have read a different history book than I did. I thought it was workers and companies and investors and inventors who created all the wealth our nation has. According to Carl, the government and UAW created the automovile industry out of thin air. The reason it takes a few hours to process coal instead of weeks in bad conditions is not because of machines, but because of legistation. The reason we have a tranist sytem in NYC is not because someone saved money, designed and built the trains and ran the trains, but because of some suit on the union’s board. Silly me.

  • ed

    CaptiousNut, please reread what i said, you don’t seem to get my point. The MTA is a lousy organization. Given the choice of siding with the MTA or TWU, New Yorkers may choose the TWU stricktly because of the crap we get fed from the MTA. I’m not saying the workers are 100 percent correct in their demands, merely that the system is screwed up and this is what we get.

  • JerseyExile thinks “agitprop” is “painting unions as the root of all evil”.

    Actually “agitprop” is defined as Communist propaganda.

    Thus his assertion would seem to stand lady logic on her head.

  • HA


    Good. NY City deserves this. You guys keep electing union-loving Democrats and now your beloved unions have bit you in your sorry Marxist rear-ends. And just before Christmas! You really have to admire the union’s knack for extorting more resources from the general public at the most opportune moment.

    I hope this goes on for months. And after that I hope that the city hires a few thousand of the leftists’ beloved “undocumented workers” to break the union.

    Instant Karma’s gonna get you! Heh!

    Heh, Heh, Heh!

  • HA


    Unions are a zero-sum game. All those otherwise economically unsustainable benefits you enjoy were coercively extracted from somebody else who wasn’t fortunate enough to be the beneficiary of a union’s protected monopoly over the supply of labor.

  • HA

    Jersey Exile,

    The middle class owes its very existence to organized labor.

    What a crock. Organized labor has devastated the manufacturing industries that used to employ millions. Thanks to unions, people who would have been able to find good jobs in steel, autos, or other manufacturing industries are now stocking shelves at Walmart. This country has a middle class IN SPITE organized labor, not because of it.

  • Francis

    “The transit union was demanding that its workers be able to retire at 55 on pension …” Incredible ! It’s sound like being in France… Reading the posts make me feel at home (Paris) where we often have this kind of debate (and strike …) … Thank you, Jeff, it changes from questionning our virtual future
    (excuse my english )

  • Avatar

    One thing nobody’s bothering to mention is that there’s a difference between a union that works for a private company and a union that works for public infrastructure.

    Would you want a cop to decide that he ought to be on a “work slowdown” instead of saving your life from a criminal? Should the firemen just let things burn until their demands are met? Man, the power company union should strike for benefits every time a big storm comes by.

    When you’re a natural monopoly, you agree to live by government rules in exchange for being the only one in the business; people aren’t going to suddenly decide en masse that they don’t need power or that they’re all going to cab into work today. When you -work- for one of those companies, aren’t you agreeing to the same bargain with the public?

  • Gray

    I agree with you on the transit strike, Jeff, but what’s your opinion on the ‘right’ of the US president to ignore the law? Why do you stay mum on this hot topic?

  • ed

    MTA is a private company.

  • Right of Center

    Gray, The legality or illegality is grey at this point. But if illegal, then articles of impeachment can be drawn. Personally, I think the Dems should talk this up as much as possible. Please! Nothing will solidify the GOP base like impeachment talk! It will also have the added bonus of making the ’06 vote yet another referendum on the war. “The President is listening in on terrorist phone calls – Impeach Him!” Perhaps the GOP will get the filibuster proof majority, finally.

    (good luck with that).

    At any rate Bush has at least one supporter, Carl.

    ” great many things have been accomplished by deliberately violating unjust laws.”

  • Right of Center

    “MTA is a private company.”


    Check out that url:


    “A public-benefit corporation chartered by the State of New York.”

    George E. Pataki
    Governor, State of New York

    Peter S. Kalikow
    Chairman, MTA

    “Private”? you could have fooled me!

  • Right of Center

    “A public-benefit corporation chartered by New York State in 1965, the MTA is governed by a 17-person Board. Members are nominated by the Governor, with some recommended by New York City’s mayor and the county executives of Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, and Putnam counties, with the members representing the latter four casting one collective vote. The Board also has six rotating non-voting seats held by representatives of organized labor and the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee (PCAC), which serves as a voice for users of MTA transit and commuter facilities. All Board members are confirmed by the New York State Senate.”


  • chico haas

    When a strike is the only way you can gain the attention of management and the public, strike. It hurts because it’s supposed to hurt. And don’t think of it as “illegal”, think of it as “civil disobedience.”

  • Right of Center

    ” And don’t think of it as ‘illegal, think of it as ‘civil disobedience.'”

    Does that count for armed robbery or looting as well?

  • Ethan

    Jeff Jarvis: attacking union workers who, in the interests of their families, circumvent the law, but oh so silent on THE FUCKING PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES who decides to ILLEGALLY eavesdrop on American citizens. Now that’s a real liberal for you!

    You make me sick.

  • Tim

    Chico: I thought we lived in a democratic republic. What right do these strikers have to betray the public trust? Did we elect them?

  • Right of Center

    I am not saying the President circumvented the law, because I don’t know if he did.

    However, for the sake of argument, lets assume he did.

    Circumventing the law for a pay raise or curcumventing the law to keep the Brooklyn Bridge from being blown up? hmmm? Tough choice.

  • SKD

    The Union was actually demanding retirement benefits to kick in at 50. While the MTA initially proposed raising retirement age to 62, it eventually offered to go with the current status quo of employees being able to retire at 55 with 25 years of service.

  • ever hear of a cab? Or phone a friend? If you really needed to get to work today–you would get there.

  • And Ed, if a 30 minute walk was ‘excruciating’ for you, this strike may be just what the doctor ordered! My weather says it’s 35 and sunny in NY. Sounds like a beautiful day to walk. Get them bones a-movin!

  • Catherine

    I’m sorry, I have to address this wiretapping thing since I’m getting a bit frustrated that the actual POINT is getting lost. This whole argument that Bush needed to “circumvent” this “unjust” law to “keep the Brooklyn Bridge from being blown up” is nonsense. The law couldn’t make it easier for wiretapping to happen. Since the FISA court was first used in 1979, 4 out of 16,200 requests for warrants to wiretap have been rejected by the court. As everyone knows at this point, there is a clause in the law that says that getting a warrant from a judge on the FISA court is not a prerequisite to start wiretapping if you get verbal approval from the attorney general. Then you have 72 hours to go get your rubber stamp from the FISA court. Now, in light of those facts, can someone please tell me why it was in the national security interest for the president to break this law? I’m begging someone to please give me a decent explanation for this one.

  • In the end, it’s a power thing. People use whatever power they have in their best economic self interest. The union isn’t getting what it wants, so it’s shutting the city down. Why? Because they can. It’s not a matter of right and wrong, it’s a matter of power and self interest.

    Hope this thing ends soon. This is gonna devastate my relatives who have a retail business which depends on Christmas shopping. Guess it’ll be good for online merchants though.

  • Apparently the schools have done their job well, labor history has vanished from the curriculum. The number of people posting here who seem not to have the foggiest ideas of the history of the organized labor movement in the US is amazing. That all the anti-union canards from the 1950’s still survive intact in a society where only 9% of the private work force is unionized is astounding.

    I know I’ll never get those who “know” everything about union abuse to actually learn some history, but just on the off chance, I suggest you read up one the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, the Lawrence “Bread and Roses” strike of 1912, the Homestead strike, or the Bisbee deportation of 1917. Or if you prefer fiction try “The Jungle.” It is clear, whether the libertarians, want to acknowledge it or not that all the benefits enjoyed by the (non-union) workforce of today are the direct result of those willing to die for worker’s rights in the past.

    These armchair philosophers are still getting a free ride as they contribute nothing to securing worker’s rights, but reap the rewards from other’s battles.

    The strike may be “illegal”, but there is something wrong with a society that makes it illegal for a person to withhold his labor. Last time I checked that was the definition of slavery. And don’t use the argument that these people “agreed” to this provision when they took the job. They didn’t “agree” to the Taylor law, it was pushed through by business interests.

    There is no public safety issue with the trains not running, just one of commerce being interrupted. Thus there is no rational justification for prohibiting a strike. I suppose those who sat in at lunch counters in the south should have not broken the “law” either. Not all “laws” are just, that’s why we have civil disobedience. To believe government always acts to benefit the people is the height of innocence.

    Jeff: I’m surprised at your neo-libertarian attitude, study a little history and count your blessings. If you were in China your hard one worker’s rights would be non-existent and so would your blog.

  • Pablo

    Note: Laws and economic systems are simply human institutions, subject to change just as much as technology or anything else.

    The “capitalistic efficiency” argument has a big hole in it. By the effiency argument, as many of these people as possible should be automated out of their job. We could be more efficient by eliminating or severely curtailing copyright and patent protections, dump polititions in exchange for direct voting, and have what remains of government either subsitize things like PRT as much as they do highways, or else insist that car manufacturers provide their own infrastructure.

    My efficiency pet peeve is the big ISPs getting laws against community wireless efforts and broadcasters preventing deployment of spread spectrum, which in a proper democracy everyone would know about and only a few special interests would dislike. I guess my point is that the American capitalist system allows strong institutions (be they unions or corporations) to force inefficiency on everyone.

    I think it’s fair to say that there is no socialist efficiency argument, and while I appreciate the sentiment that would say it’s better to be inneficient than have people wonder how they will care for their kids, the idea that it has to be one or the other is flawed.

    Ultimately, capitalism and socialism both hit a wall when you realize that economics were intended to serve people, not the other way ’round. We no longer really need human labor for most of our production. Time to start thinking about what kind of a system would let these unionized workers keep their right to collective representation and maintain a decent living while still maximizing efficiency in automatable industries.

    And please, no capitalists or socialists trying to claim that “it’s in everybodies long-term best interest to go with our system.” Long term best interest has never had much influence on anyone fighting to either get where their going or keep their job.

  • Tim

    First off, you are using the typical ad hominem of accusing us of being ignorant. This is fallacy and only weakens your arguments (if that’s possible, given the low quality of your arguments).

    Second, even if your historical mythology is true (and it’s not), it has no bearing on today. We don’t “owe” unions because of their past actions. Private institutions can’t extort today because their past “deeds.” Those employed are employed because of their own choices, not because of some mythological magical movement in times of yore.

    Third, though it is true that one as the right to withhold his/her labor, they don’t have a right to avoid the consequences of their actions. As noted earlier, these people are employed under the condition they serve the public trust. As such, the public can end their employment when they betray that trust. The public owns the trains and transit system, not the unions. You essentially endorse slavery of the public for the profit of private individuals. The strikers broke the law and their contract. The public owes them nothing but a pink slip. Equating them with the Civil Rights Movement (and angels and saints) is silly, and anti-democratic as well. We live in a nation of laws, not men.

  • Feinman chimes in:

    “There is no public safety issue with the trains not running…”

    I was just reading posts on another blog from people that had no way to get to their doctor and in one case, their dialysis appointment.

    And there are the hourly employees losing time strolling their infants in cold weather to daycare, etc.

    But Feinman says only “commerce” is disrupted.

    Aren’t the poor and minorities hardest hit by the strike?

    When are Kanye West, Al Sharpton, Chuck Schumer, and Hillary going to decry this disproportionate suffering?

  • ed

    Re: my walk, i was being sarcastic. It was a beautiful morning and the walk was fine. No one was complaining. I usually prefer walking to the stinking subway anyway.

  • J

    Thinking doesn’t count as labor? Computers can’t think.

  • Keith Dawson

    The comment that “The strike may be “illegal”, but there is something wrong with a society that makes it illegal for a person to withhold his labor. Last time I checked that was the definition of slavery” is fallacious.

    There is no prohibition on withholding labor. These folks are free to not work, in effect, to seek employment elsewhere. Invoking slavery is just nonsensical hyperbole.

    And whether or not they agree to the Taylor law, they are bound by it as a) citizens who are free to petition for changes in the law and b) parties to a contract governed by the laws of the state.

    This sad union is trying to deny economic reality through a show of force. They will lose this encounter, both in the short term and the long term. In the short term, they incur the wrath of a public that doesn’t have a lot of patience for people who refuse to pay for their own pensions and health plans – forcing that cost onto the public in one of the most heavily taxed jurisdictions in America. And in the long term, with encroaching automation and one-man train crews coming very quickly (not to mention automated fare vending), you can bet that the union’s going to be facing layoffs come 2008, 2009 and 2010.

  • “The strike may be “illegal”, but there is something wrong with a society that makes it illegal for a person to withhold his labor. Last time I checked that was the definition of slavery” is fallacious. Couldn’t agree more Keith.

    Don’t get into legally binding agreements, right?

  • Tes Midwest

    For all of you union bashers out there let me remind you of what it is like to work for a corporation. When I was starting out I worked for a successful retailer. I was one of a very few full time employees,(most were part or three quarter time so that they didn’t have to pay them benefits). My benefits included a very scant medical insurance policy, 3 whole days of sick leave per year, and 1 week of vacation. I made a whopping 7 dollars and hour at my highest rate of pay. The store was open 364 days a year from 7 to 9, so my schedule was required to be open(by threat of termination) 7 days a week, 7 to 9. Even if I had wanted to supplement my poverty level income, I could not have. Promotion was unlikely since most of the people being promoted were white men (something this retailer was later sued for). And to add insult to injury, the corporate office would post their astronomical earnings in the break room to inspire it’s associates. Someone was getting rich, and it wasn’t the workers. Oh and did I mention you could pretty much be fired at any time for any reason.

    If your not a professional some times union jobs are they only way for some people to keep themselves out of poverty. You have noticed the poverty level haven’t you? Or are all those people poor because they’re all lazy?

    If you leave worker’s rights in the hand’s of your employer you get poverty, bad benefits if any at all, and discrimination. At least that’s the way I see it, and I did see it with my own eyes.

  • Monopolies are bad, labor monopolies(Unions) are especially bad because the press doesn’t understand that they are a in fact monopolies so they tend to get a free pass.

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions (see French Riots).

  • HA

    Robert Feinman,

    The strike may be “illegal”, but there is something wrong with a society that makes it illegal for a person to withhold his labor. Last time I checked that was the definition of slavery.

    No, its called a contractual obligation. The strikers are violating their contractual obligations and should be fired. Then, somebody who is currently stocking shelves at Walmart for $8 an hour but who would be quite willing and perfectly qualified to man a toll booth for the $60k plus benefits should be entitled to apply for that job without getting beaten by union thugs. But, no, the Walmart guy has to keep his shitty job because the union goons feel they are entitled to blackmail the public.

    Now I suppose that your response is that the Walmart shelf-stocker should be unionized and make $60k also. But then Walmart will have to raise prices to the point where the minimum wage burger flipper can no longer afford shoes. And then you’ll assert the burger flipper should be unionized and make $60k and so on, and so on…until we have a centrally planned Soviet style economy. There is no other end point to your economically ignorant logic.

    What you are really saying, without any comprehension whatsoever, is that there is “something wrong” with a free market society.

  • “Feinman: There is no public safety issue with the trains not running, just one of commerce being interrupted.”

    So, I guess all those cops retasked to deal with this crisis doesn’t mean diddly in response times to 911 calls then, eh? It’s only cash registers that are taking it in the neck–which generate the dollars that feed the fiscal trough, and cover the overtime nut those cops are currently running up–but other than that, “no harm, no foul.”

    Do you really want to stake out that turf?

  • Mike NYC

    Well, HA, no shit. Free market societies do have problems. That’s why there has to be checks on organizations like the MTA. (And, I think, unions like TWU).

  • Bruce from Alta California


    Are you one of those overpaid railroad workers in the United Transportation Union?

    I don’t disagree that unions unchecked can run amuck. That said, City Girl brings up many salient points.

  • Robert

    Jeff’s argument seems to be that because he doesn’t have a pension neither should anyone else? Isn’t life shitty enough in the USA for many people? Some of whom live in third-world conditions. What is it with Americans? ‘Please get an even bigger stick and beat me even harder’.

    Look at some of the things the hugely rich Hollywood studios and record industry want to make ‘illegal’. Many are not in the best interests of the public.

    Some big businesses are bad and wouldn’t be bothered if their workers died doing their job, if it was ‘legal’ for them to operate like that. There are good and bad unions. But the good ones have helped improve life for workers.

  • Jorge

    Rules are only used against those who don’t make them.

  • I thought it was workers and companies and investors and inventors who created all the wealth our nation has. According to Carl, the government and UAW created the automovile industry out of thin air.

    Working Person, I don’t see how you get the above from this: “work week and benefits that we enjoy and expect today were not the rewards of hardwork, but of union actions and government intervention. ” I pointed out two benefits brought about by union activity. I do agree (ironically, completely) that unions do not breed (rather, stifle) innovation. At one point, about 100 years ago, they were innovative and useful. Now? Nope.

  • Robert

    Also if Jeff feels this way about Unions, pensions and rights for workers, he certainly should not be working for the Manchester Guardian.

  • At any rate Bush has at least one supporter, Carl.

    ” great many things have been accomplished by deliberately violating unjust laws.”

    Come on, Right of Center, surely you can do better than pulling someone’s quote completely out of context?

    In example: the bus boycotts were illegal. By performing them, and then facing the consequences, MLK accomplished a great thing. Generalizing that out to all crimes is silly.

    Did Bush do anything great by violating the law? That will be for Congress to decide.

  • Robert, the argument isn’t that nobody should have a pension, it’s that people shouldn’t use the threat of economic chaos (and frostbite) to artificially inflate their wages. If these people feel they’re being under paid why don’t they just find higher paying jobs like everybody else? I never did understand that about unions.

  • Robert

    Maybe because, as workers’ rights get eroded, there aren’t any higher paying jobs? In the drive to pay investors/shareholders/owners ever more money, something has ‘to give’ and usually that ‘something’ is pay and conditions for the worker. Especially when no one is sticking up for that worker.

    The people who are arguing against unions should go and spend a month working at Walmart.

    Decades of ‘anti-commie’ propaganda have certainly worked over there. So, how low do you think wages should go, when you are competing in a global market against slave labour and sweatshops in other countries?

  • The statement “Bush is an idiot therefore Socialism is a logically sound economic philosophy” will win friends if not arguments. How can socialists bear to live in this heartless capitalist dystopia when the joys of a tranquil socialist utopia lie just a short flight across the Atlantic in the outskirts of Paris? Maybe it’s the higher standard of living, lack of burning cars, etc.

  • Robert

    The newspaper/publishing/media industry, which Jeff makes a living commentating on, is a perfect example of what happens when unions lose any power. Here in the UK there are journalists and TV producers who live in London and earn £14,000 for working fulltime. That is about $25,000.

    The companies can pay that because there is so much competition for jobs, the ‘if you don’t like find something else’ attitude which is mentioned above, and rich middle class kids who are subsidised for years by their familes.

  • Robert

    Kirk tell it to the black people who lived in New Orleans. You seem blind to those kind of people over there. Third world conditions even before the hurricane hit…

  • HA


    I pointed out two benefits brought about by union activity.

    And I’ll point out that those benefits accrued to union members, and ONLY union members. And the came at the expense of everybody else. Unions don’t create wealth. They steal it from other members of society.

    Why can’t you union apologists grasp this simple and obvious fact?

  • Pingback: Sawdust + Incense » Blog Archive » Transit(ion)()

  • HA

    Mike NYC,

    Well, HA, no shit. Free market societies do have problems. That’s why there has to be checks on organizations like the MTA. (And, I think, unions like TWU).

    The MTA is a governmet run monopoly for Christ’s sake! The problem here is that it the MTA is NOT subject to market forces. If it was, transit consumers could choose a competing transportation service.

    The MTA should be broken up like AT&T was, and then the pieces should be sold off and privatized.


  • Bruce from Alta California


    You have got to be kidding about Free Market and the break-up of AT&T. That was all smoke and mirrors. That was like dropping mercury on your desktop. Look how fast they are rejoining. This is fast becomming a two-corporation world, Pepsi vs Coca Cola. The mega-mergers are quickly going to leave us with two of everything, two banks, two oil companies, two pharmicuticals, etc, et al, ad nauseum.

    And those that own the two mega-corporations will convince us through their two mega-media empires that it is in the name of competition and it is good for us.

  • chico haas

    Belated response to Right of Center:

    “Civil disobedience” is often used to soften or justify illegal acts such as looting, vandalism and arson. Armed robbery would be a stretch.

  • jon

    1: Pension ages and contributions in NYS cannot be determined at the bargaining table.
    2: Staffing levels aren’t on the table according to press reports
    3: “Most other cities” don’t run 2-block-long trains in the world’s #1 terrorist target
    4: If workers stayed in the booths you could find them, no?
    5: Waiting for arriving trains in stations is a management call, not a conductor decision; in the 80s, MTA policy meant trains met regardless of whether it would force a train to run late. Now they must hew to a schedule regardless of reality in the stations.

    You’re allowed to be cranky, but being factually incorrect only gives blogs a bad name.
    But maybe you were still in your pajamas when you wrote this?

    (Let’s point out part of the anti-management case, just for kicks…
    The MTA board went on a spending spree to draw down their surplus in the weeks before contract expiration. Neither the MTA chair nor the Governor, who controls the Board, got involved in negotiations in any serious way. A little respect might have gone a long way.)

  • Joe I.

    The GREED of those workers amazes me. They have the best benefits/pay system in the world. Why are they complaining when most people don’t ahve a pension and will not retire at 55.

    The greed of these people not only in what they demand but they are TAKING money off of the table for millions on service workers who will have no tips and no commissons on sales because of those in the union.

  • John

    Actually, Jeff, New York City had a robot train up and running 43 years ago on the 42nd Street shuttle. But when it was destroyed in a 1964 station fire, the TA and then the MTA never tried to reinstitute the program.

    As for the strike and the MTA budget, whatever surplus the agency has will disappear anyway in the next few years no matter what contract the TWU ends up with, because of the bond debt the agency has incurred over the past several years to buy thousands of new subway cars, along with the recently passed bond issue that includes preliminary work on the Second Avenue subway, which has never been built despite the first bond issue for it being approved in 1950.

    Pushing the bond debt repayment back to 2010 or so was a way of kicking the financial can down the road by Pataki, so that Governor Spitzer and his future MTA chairman will have to deal with the consequences. And Roger Touusant and the union has to know about the sham surplus as well, but it’s in neither side’s interest to make a big deal about it — Pataki’s looking to run for president, and Republicans around the country already think New York is financially irresponsible, while Touusant was elected by the more radical element of the TWU who were mad at the former union leadership for wimping out three years ago and agreeing to a contract without sticking it to the man and callinga strike. The hard-liners already think Toussant is a little soft, so he’s got to keep them happy now that he’s pulled the trigger on the walkout.

    Pataki also can’t let MTA chairman Peter Kaliko give in, at least if he wants to maintain any viability (at least in his own mind) as a 2008 GOP presidential candidate. So this figures to be a stalemate that’s going to last at least a couple of more days, though the nation Transport Worker’s Union action today criticizing the local TWU for the strike may give Toussant an out, if he’ll take it. Otherwise, it’s going to be Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa for Roger at Rikers.

  • Robert

    Joe why don’t you turn your attention onto some of the people who run businesses and companies and see how greedy they are?

    BTW what is your job?

  • “Kirk tell it to the black people who lived in New Orleans. You seem blind to those kind of people over there. Third world conditions even before the hurricane hit… “

    So transit workers making $65,000 are living in 3rd world conditions? Question early retirement for union members and you can guarantee a response like “You must not like feeding starving children”. Well I was just in NY on the subway and I can promise you they didn’t look hungry.

    Socialism doesn’t benefit the poor it benefits the middle class and only at the expense of the poor and GDP. Look at the unemployment in France, German, Italy, etc. then compare it to the unemployment rate in the free markets of Ireland, the UK, and the USA. Coincidence? Double digit employment is good for the poor?

    What you believe is intuitive, even Einstein was a Socialist. Unfortunately for democratic societies, economic reality happens to be counterintuitive. I’m not a Republican by the way, I too don’t like Bush. Any distaste I have for Socialism is due to my obsession with economics.

    Some good may actually come of this strike. You can bet NY will be looking into smart systems to automate their transit in the near future. They’ll just need to encase the computers in bullet proof glass to withstand the attacks from pitchfork-weilding Neo-Luddite Socialists.

  • Ravo

    “Kirk tell it to the black people who lived in New Orleans. You seem blind to those kind of people over there. Third world conditions even before the hurricane hit… “

    Those kinds of places – places like New Orleans and San Francisco – are a continual reminder that we should never, never allow the socialistic liberals to run the country.

    “The huge mess they have made of San Francisco is a graphic testament to that premise. There is no segment of city governance that is not a total mess from education, property assessment, crime, cost of living, homelessness, developing Treasure Island, and on and on.”
    – Jim Sparkman

    Ditto for New Orleans – the poverty you saw there was a direct result of 40 years of the liberal socialistic class ruling there.

    Tes writes: Or are all those people poor because they’re all lazy?

    No, they are just not motivated to be capitalistic businessowners….taking on all the risks and headaches of employers dealing with workers. Listening, one would think some of us are under the impression that one cannot go from being a worker to an employer or vice versa.

    I had many of the same corporate experiences as you Tess…no way was my corporate employer going to promote me to anything meaningful, so poor and uneducated, I started a firm I could be the President of…in a line of work I wasn’t particularly fond of but one I knew I could succeed in without a degree.

    That’s the beauty of our capitalistic society….you get to choose no matter how humble your beginning…where you end up. Course, if you choose substance abuse, unwed motherhood etc. you sabotage that choice…but that is not the fault of capitalism ..but the fault of those who make those poor choices.

    No one in our capitalistic society is owed a job created by someone else.

  • HA


    I’m not a Republican by the way, I too don’t like Bush. Any distaste I have for Socialism is due to my obsession with economics.

    One doesn’t have to be a Republican to hate socialism, but one cannot be a Democrat any more and hate socialism. The Democrats are a socialist party.

  • Joe I.


    I am a local booking agent. Make commision on getting indie bands to gigs in various locals….

    Here is the difference. I can CHOOSE to buy and Apple iPod and make Steve Jobs and Apple stock holders rich or any other business for that matter. From my local coffee shop owner to the big business. Steve Jobs getting rich is not affecting me.

    Now PUBLIC employees who I pay hard earned taxes to pay their salary and retirement and pay to use the bus/transport each time, that is my issue!! They serve the public and should not demand more than what the “average man” gets. If no one in the private sector in the future has a pension NO one in the public sector should either. It is GREED and THEFT from pay pocket plain and simple. If they want to be greedy go work for Google but NOT my government.

  • Nice try Mr. O’reilly. Now give Jeff his keyboard back.

  • Is it possible not to have pension in US ? I don’t understand how so a rich contry don’t assure people to live in their oldness !…

  • zoukeiro

    Everyone might want to share their comments here. Let the greeder workers know how they have no support:


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