Streams

 

 

John Samuelsen

Transportation Nation

Transport Workers, Needing to Bargain With NY MTA Chair Prendergast, Open With Praise

Friday, April 12, 2013

Now that the NY MTA has a new chairman in Tom Prendergast, and Local Transport Workers Union 100 has a recently re-elected president in John Samuelsen, the two sides can now sit down hammer out a contract.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Gov Cuomo Shows No Urgency In Appointing Next Chair Of NY MTA

Friday, February 22, 2013

The front runner in the search for the NY MTA's next chairperson.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Two months have passed since now-mayoral candidate Joe Lhota resigned as chairman and CEO of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority. So what do we know about his replacement, the man or woman who will face a raft of problems, once that person is chosen by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to lead the nation's largest transit agency?

"Nothing, nada, zip, zero," said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. "I haven't heard."

Other transportation advocates say the same. At one time, those advocates would have known by now what was happening. That time was September 2011, two months after Lhota's predecessor, Jay Walder, resigned from the NY MTA's top spot. A search committee made up of advocates and governmental veterans was, by the end of those two months, wrapping up interviews for Walder's replacement. The committee recommended Lhota, whom Cuomo named head of the NY MTA in October of 2011. Three months later, the state senate confirmed him in the post.

A mere year later, Lhota was gone--convinced by Republican power brokers to run for mayor, a decision made easier by the high profile he gained from directing the authority's largely sure-footed handling of storm Sandy.

But this time around, there is little urgency in the search for his replacement. The governor has not courted fanfare in announcing the formation of a search committee, as he did before. Instead, a Cuomo official blamed distractions from Sandy and an Albany budget fight for the fact that "there will be no announcement soon" about a new transit chief. Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing would only add that, "The administration continues to actively search for a new chairman."

Former mayoral candidate Freddy Ferrer, who joined the NY MTA board eight months ago, is serving in a caretaker role as interim chairman and CEO. Ferrer has said repeatedly that he has no interest in making his role permanent.

Acting executive director Tom Prendergast, who normally runs the subways and buses, now has the firmest grasp of anyone on day-to-day operations. Some transportation advocates are floating his name as their choice for the next chairman. Mitchell Moss, NYU professor of urban policy and planning, theorized that Prendergast's prowess at keeping the authority running, particularly Prendergast's skillful navigation of a recent snowstorm, is easing the pressure on Cuomo to promptly name a new NY MTA chairman. "Tom is a seasoned professional who is doing such a good job that there may not be the urgency to fill the position," Moss said.

But the NY MTA faces crucial post-Sandy choices about repairing and hardening the transit system, especially as the authority starts to spend nearly $5 billion in federal aid. Joe Lhota vigorously lobbied his fellow Republicans for Sandy aid; without a permanent chair, the NY MTA has lost at least some of that clout.

The void at the top is also felt in the stalled negotiations between the NY MTA and its largest union, TWU Local 100, which has been without a contract for 13 months. The two sides haven't spoken in nearly four months, an unusually long hiatus for a union negotiation.

An apparent moment to make progress  presented itself in mid-December, when the day-to-day emergency of Sandy had subsided and freshly re-elected union president John Samuelsen was freed from campaigning. Instead, Joe Lhota "dropped the bomb," in the words of union spokesman Jim Gannon, by announcing his resignation.

Lhota was then asked at his final board meeting whether his abrupt departure would stall the authority's talks with Samuelsen, with whom Lhota had gone out of his way to cultivate a productive relationship. Lhota downplayed the problem. "There have been talks and there will continue to be talks," he said. Since then, he's been wrong on the second point.

The talks matter because a balanced budget for the authority rests in part on getting the union to agree to either three years of flat pay or pay increases offset by rules concessions that bring increased productivity. Without those three "net-zeroes," the NY MTA's chronically fragile finances would become even more problematic, with cuts in service a possibility. Either way, that's a headache for the next chairperson to sort out, whenever that person arrives.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Contract Talks Resume Between MTA and Transit Union

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

TWU Local 100 president John Samuelsen and NY MTA executive director Joe Lhota before start of contract talks. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

Talks resume Thursday between New York City’s Transport Workers Union and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It is the first time the two sides will have met since contract talks collapsed late last month.

Both sides return to the bargaining table with little animosity, according to a source close to the union. But the calm comes after theatrical fallout. At a press conference a few weeks ago, TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen accused the MTA of negotiating in the media.

The MTA fired back that it was the union talking to the press.

The top sticking points remain. The MTA wants a five-year agreement with the union, with no wage increase for the first three years, followed by 2 percent across-the-board wage increases in subsequent years. The union wants a three-year contract, with cost of living increases each year.

Additionally, the MTA is proposing increases in health care contributions for workers. It's also asked for a host of rule changes, such as whether the MTA will be able to combine train conductor and operator jobs.

According to one union official, negotiations are expected to drag on for several weeks. There's currently no threat of a strike like the one that stalled public transit for three days in December 2005.

The MTA's contract with TWU Local 100 expired on January 15.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Lhota: Don't Hate on the MTA

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Joseph Lhota, on his second official day as chair and CEO of the MTA (photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

When Jay Walder took office in 2009, he made no bones about his priorities: installing countdown clocks, Oyster cards, and bettering bus service. But the new CEO, Joseph Lhota, confirmed Monday by the New York Senate, seems to have a less lofty goal: getting the public not to hate on the nation’s largest transit agency.

Yes, he wants to improve efficiencies; yes he wants more and better communication with customers; yes, he’ll strenuously defend the expenditure of taxpayer funds on the transit agency. “There’s not a transit agency in the country that burdens their riders with solely paying for the system,” Lhota says, echoing remarks he made at yesterday’s hearing.

But at the end of the day, Lhota says, “I’m finding a lot of people don’t have a whole lot of respect for the MTA."

He sat down Tuesday with WNYC’s Jim O’Grady to talk about the MTA’s image problem, why there won’t be more bus service anytime soon, and why he’s encouraged by a move by the Transport Workers Union to extend the contract deadline beyond Sunday night.

[TWU President] “John Samuelsen and I have tried to do everything to create a relationship with each other.  We’re open and honest with each other,” Lhota said.

A transcript of the interview follows.

O’Grady: Under your predecessor, Jay Walder, a set of his main accomplishments were innovations like the countdown clock and real time information for riders. What innovations do you have in mind?

Lhota: I think you’re going to see a continuation of more information, more communications with all of our customers, our riders.  The ability to tell them how soon a train is coming or how soon a bus is coming is a very important thing. I’m going to spend an enormous amount of time on increasing the efficiency of the MTA and also changing what most people think of the MTA.

I’m finding a lot of people don’t have a whole lot of respect for the MTA. It's an organization that allows eight and a half million people to travel to and from work every day and to travel home every day and to school, to dates on Saturday night. I want people to understand how important the MTA is to their lives. At the end of the day I’d like them to feel good -- or feel better -- about the MTA.

O’Grady: Do you have any ideas in the technology realm?

Lhota: In the technology world there are an enormous amount of innovations.  We started a contest for apps, so we can provide data to people who develop apps for iPhones and smartphones. The best thing to do for technology is not for a government agency determine what to do, but to harness the power of young people who seem to have a much better understanding, a much better grasp of technology.

O’Grady: What ideas do you have for funding the MTA?

Lhota: Some of the senators yesterday said they wanted to find a way to end any taxpayer funding for the MTA. And I reminded them in 1968 when the legislature back then with then Governor Rockefeller --they created the MTA with the intent that the burden of the transit system would not be solely on the rider, that it would be more broad-based, that there would be tax revenues.  The concept of totally eliminating tax funding for the MTA would be inconsistent with how it was created. There’s not a transit agency in the country that burdens their riders with solely paying for the system.

O’Grady: Where’s that money going to come from?

Lhota: I don’t know where the money is going to come from but I’ll work with the state legislature and I’ll work with leaders across the state. The question of revenues right now not isolated to the MTA -- all government agencies are under pressure. The current condition of our economy is really providing the lack of revenues.

I’ll work with Albany, with City Hall and the federal government, on new and better fund sources.

O’Grady: Jay Walder said in Hong Kong that New York’s transit system was underfunded and under developed.

Lhota: I heard Jay’s comments. They were taken out of context. Jay was comparing the brand new system in Hong Kong to a hundred plus year-old system here in New York. It’s really tough to compare something that is brand new with something that has being operated for over 100 years. The comparison is not apt.

O’Grady: There was a close vote on [the MTA] board about restoring bus service. People are always clamoring for connecting underserved areas like, say, Red Hook to Williamsburg as one example.  Would you consider restoring or adding bus service anywhere in New York?

Lhota : When we get the finances under control. Our budget is currently very fragile [and] we have a lot of risky assumptions in our budget. We have to constantly evaluate where should we have our routes, where should we change service, where should we increase it, where should we decrease it. We need to do that based on the demographics of what’s going on, but until we get our financial house in order we will not be seeing restorations.

O’Grady: Getting your financial house in order -- where does the consolidation play into that? Are there savings to be had from consolidation?

Lhota: There are some savings to be had -- and dealing with what people unfortunately pejoratively call the bloat -- with the MTA.  Where do we have too many lawyers, where do we have too many accountants,  where do we have too many paper pushers? That will provide some help but not substantially all, we need to find ways to do what we do with the resources we have.

O’Grady: Just give me your general impression of how its going with the Transport Workers Union.

Lhota:  Negotiations are ongoing, they’ve been constructive, they’ve been very helpful. John Samuelsen and I have tried to do everything to create a relationship with each other. We’re open and honest with each other. We tell him things that we like.  I tell him things I don’t like and there are no repercussions from it. The negotiations are ongoing but will remain behind closed doors.

O’Grady: Are you going to hit the deadline?

Lhota: We’re going to do everything we can to hit the deadline. The executive committee of the TWU has already extended the deadline by saying if they don’t have a contract by that date they’re willing to extend it out. That was a very encouraging sign by the leaders of the TWU, so the pressure we normally have on us is not there. That being said, we’re going to do everything we can to have it resolved by midnight next Sunday night.

Read More

Comments [1]

Transportation Nation

NY MTA And Its Largest Union Open Contract Talks

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

TWU Local 100 president John Samuelsen chats with MTA executive director Joe Lhota before the start of contract talks at the Sheraton Hotel. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

Listen to an audio version of this story:

 

(New York, NY - WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its largest union opened contract talks on Tuesday at the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Both sides acknowledged tense times ahead.

The MTA said it is counting on its workers to accept a three-year wage freeze like the one Governor Andrew Cuomo extracted from the Public Employees Federation. But John Samuelsen, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, said he and his members won't buckle if the MTA tries to do the same. Samuelsen said, "We're certainly not going to be bullied into accepting wage freezes by threat of layoff."

The current contract expires January 15.

Negotiations began with addresses by Samuelsen and MTA executive Joe Lhota to a conference room packed with TWU members. Lhota started with a compliment: "My first message to you is that I know the MTA employees are our most valuable resource."

The remark was in some ways pro forma. But its reception by the workers — hearty roars filled the room — seemed to signal something new between the authority and the union: a measure of mutual respect. Samuelson said he never felt that from Lhota's predecessor, Jay Walder, who fought with the union and laid off 1,000 workers in 2009. When Walder announced his resignation this past July, the TWU began  its official statement by saying the union was "glad to see him go" -- and it went downhill from there.

Lhota, who started on the job Monday, shrewdly made his first act in office to join the union's call for aggressive prosecution of attacks on bus drivers. The union says someone assaults a bus driver an average of three times a week in New York. Lhota reiterated the stance at the Sheraton, to more applause.

He then switched to the matter at hand and declared, "As we begin the collective bargaining process, you have my commitment that the MTA will listen to your demands and that we will negotiate in good faith."

On the surface, the two men anchoring each side in the contract talks are opposites: Lhota wears an executive's suit and looks owlish behind thick glasses; Samuelsen is a bear of a man in an untucked union polo shirt.

But they seem to have gotten off to a good, if wary, start. When Samuelsen brought Lhota to the podium at the Sheraton, he asked his members not to boo. They didn't.

And when the meeting was done, the union chief made another unusual request of the crowd as Lhota and his deputies were leaving. "Please show respect for the bosses who are walking out of here right now," Samuelsen said. "We'll save our fight for another day."

Fighting there will be. Lhota cautioned that the MTA's budget was "fragile" due to "the ongoing economic crisis." Samuelsen countered that its members have increased their productivity in recent years and deserve a raise. Talks begin in earnest in a week or two.

The MTA and its largest union opened contract talks on Tuesday at the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Both sides acknowledged tense times ahead.

The MTA said it is counting on its workers to accept a three-year wage freeze like the one Governor Andrew Cuomo extracted from the Public Employees Federation. But John Samuelsen, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, said he and his members won't buckle if the MTA tries to do the same. Samuelsen told WNYC's Brian Lehrer, "We're certainly not going to be bullied into accepting wage freezes by threat of layoff."

The current contract expires January 15.

Negotiations began with addresses by Samuelsen and MTA executive Joe Lhota to a conference room packed with TWU members. Lhota started with a compliment: "My first message to you is that I know the MTA employees are our most valuable resource."

The remark was in some ways pro forma. But its reception by the workers — hearty roars filled the room — seemed to signal something new between the authority and the union: a measure of mutual respect. Samuelson said he never felt that from Lhota's predecessor, Jay Walder, who fought with the union and laid off 1,000 workers in 2009. When Walder announced his resignation this past July, the TWU constructed its official reaction around the phrase "good riddance."

Lhota, who started on the job Monday, shrewdly made his first act in office to join the union's call for aggressive prosecution of attacks on bus drivers. The union says someone assaults a bus driver an average of three times a week in New York. Lhota reiterated the stance at the Sheraton, to more applause.

He then switched to the matter at hand and declared, "As we begin the collective bargaining process, you have my commitment that the MTA will listen to your demands and that we will negotiate in good faith."

On the surface, the two men anchoring each side in the contract talks are opposites: Lhota wears an executive's suit and looks owlish behind thick glasses; Samuelsen is a bear of a man in an untucked union polo shirt.

But they seem to have gotten off to a good start. When Samuelsen brought Lhota to the podium at the Sheraton, he asked his members not to boo. They didn't.

And when the meeting was done, the union chief made another unusual request of the crowd as Lhota and his deputies were leaving. "Please show respect for the bosses who are walking out of here right now," Samuelsen said. "We'll save our fight for another day."

Fighting there will be. Lhota cautioned that the MTA's budget was "fragile" due to "the ongoing economic crisis." Samuelsen countered that its members increased productivity in recent years and deserve a raise. Talks begin in earnest in a week or two.

Read More

Comment