Judge Rules MTA Must Hold Hearings Prior to Closing Token Booths

A state judge is forcing the the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to postpone its plan to layoff hundreds of station agents. Civil court Judge Saliann Scarpulla made the ruling Friday, saying that the MTA didn't hold sufficient public hearings on its plan to close about 100 full and part-time station booths as part of its attempt to balance its budget. The station agents are needed to staff the booths.

The MTA argued that hearings held in January 2009 should have been sufficient. But the judge said those hearings applied to an earlier strategy that would close the booths gradually, once enough station agents retired or voluntarily decided to leave.

In December, because enough agents hadn't left their jobs, the MTA decided to lay them off. As a result, last month, the authority laid off nearly half of the planned 475 agents, saying that it would still have enough agents to staff all the booths they were planning on closing.

Transit Workers Union (TWU) Local 100, the union that represents the station agents, went to court right when the closings were to go into effect, and won a temporary restraining order. But that order only applied to about 60 booths that were staffed full-time. The order allowed 41 part-time booths, also called "kiosks," to close, and the MTA laid off about 260 agents accordingly.

What's less clear now is what happens to the 41 part-time booths that were closed and the agents who were laid off last month. TWU President John Samuelsen says the order requires the MTA to re-hire the workers; an MTA spokesman says the authority hasn't decided whether it needs to do so.

Samuelsen says the court decision buys his union time to find enough money that the MTA can use to put off layoffs altogether.

"We're talking about 60 to 90 days," he told WNYC. "During that period of time, Local 100 and our partners are vigorously pursuing funding alternatives."

An MTA spokesman wouldn't say how long the authority expected the hearings to take, but the authority's statement indicated that layoffs would follow.

"These closures were necessitated by the MTA’s dire financial situation," the statement reads," and the need for the savings they generate remains."

Last updated 7:00