Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

MTA vs. TWU: Follow-up

To follow up on the prior posting regarding the labor dispute in New York City between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Transport Workers Union Local 100:

The purpose of this posting is not to give a blow-by-blow account of the ongoing labor dispute, nor to parrot other blogs or news articles. Like other posts on this blog, this is nothing more or less than my own general perspective to the situation. And, like many if not most of my other posts, it is a perspective that does not comfortably fit into any typical or stereotypical niche or hole.

As a preliminary matter, I shall disclose that I have a teaching gig at a New York public educational institution, and as such, am a public employee covered by the "no strike" provision of the Taylor Law. I am also a dues-paying member of the relevant public employee union, notwithstanding my extreme philosophical and political differences with unions in general and my union in particular. So already, I do not conform to the stereotype!

And, to all you unionist and union sympathizers, don't cry too hard for the TWU! The Taylor Law, which prohibits public employees from striking, isn't totally anti-union. To the contrary, Section 208(3) of the Taylor Law allows the public employee unions to take an "agency shop fee" deduction from public employees who are not union members. So if you are a public employee in New York, the union touches your paycheck whether or not you are a member. This is legalized extortion!

There is now in effect a preliminary injunction against the a strike, violations of which would supposedly cost the TWU and its individual members beaucoup bucks. The TWU has rejected what the MTA has purported as its best and final offer, and has threatened to go on strike at 12:01 AM on Tuesday 20 December 2005.

In my prior post, I said that "[w]hat it all boils down to is which side will blink first." This assessment still holds. The Taylor Law (properly known as the Public Employees' Fair Employment Act, and codified as Article 14 of the New York Civil Service Law) was enacted in 1967, in response to the 1966 TWU strike that crippled New York City. But the Taylor Law's "no strike" provision has proven to be a farce. The TWU stopped work for 11 days in 1980, and was given amnesty for striking. So, given the historical record, there are some serious questions as to whether the consequences provided in the "no strike" provisions of the Taylor Law will really be enforced.

The pattern of late has been (A) TWU-MTA contract heading towards expiration mode; (B) TWU making noises to the effect that it may strike; (C) government gets injunction against strike, with severe financial consequences if injunction is violated; and (D) labor dispute settles, new contract inked, and cycle begins anew. This script cannot continue indefinitely. Eventually, the TWU (or, perhaps, some other public employee union in New York) will step across the line and actually strike. And when (not if) that happens, the :no strike" provisions of the Taylor Law will be put to test. If there be amnesty, as happened with the 1980 strike, then the Taylor Law will prove to be nothing more than a another piece of paper to litter the subway platforms of New York. And enforcing the provisions would entail a prolonged period of transit system dysfunction until the replacement workers sufficiently progress up the learning curve.

Do Governor Pataki and Attorney General Spitzer have the baitzim to enforce the Taylor Law? Perhaps they do, but I, for one, am not making book on it. Both George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer are lame ducks who have immediate aspirations for higher office. They may be quite reluctant to soil their hands on the mess that would accompany any serious effort to enforce the Taylor Law.

If the "no strike" provisions of the Taylor Law are not to be given serious regard, then the Taylor Law is a farce, and its continued existence will ultimately breed contempt for the rule of law and contempt for the authorities who are supposed to enforce the law.

And so, I say that the Taylor Law should be enforced. But how do I reconcile this with the fact that that my own union is now in contract negotiations, and has in fact floated the possibility of an illegal strike? This presents no real contradiction, because if the Taylor Law is not enforced, it for all intents and purposes does not exist. And if the TWU can strike with impunity, then all I ask is that my own union be extended the same courtesy.


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