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.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

LIRR/MTA loses the Moral High Ground

Been busy grading papers, submitting grades, and, these past few days, an out-of-town business excursion.

The Long Island Railroad has undergone significant changes from the 1920's, when arose the famous case of Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad, a Cardozo opinion known to law students in every law school torts classes in America.  Instead of a private enterprise, the LIRR is now a division of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority.  Long Island is very dependent upon the LIRR operations for its economic health.  For a number of years, I was a daily LIRR commuter; I still use it from time to time (including yesterday, but don't get me started on that mostly frustrating overnight excursion to Harrisburg and back to Penn Station and back home via LIRR).

As mentioned in the posting of 31 July 2013, there was union complicity in a massive Railroad Retirement Board disability pension scheme.  The unions have given the public an impression of cupidity and insolence.  The LIRR's unions have set a 20 July strike deadline.  And, until a few days ago, the LIRR/MTA have commanded the moral high ground in this dispute (morality being a relative value in that Class D minor league that entails the MTA, the LIRR, and the labor unions having contracts with them).

Helena Williams had been President of the LIRR, and, as one who actually took the LIRR commute on an almost daily basis, understood the concerns of the commuters.  She did take some steps to reform the old entrenched LIRR culture.

But then, Tom Prendergast took the helm of the MTA.  Prendergast has an engineering and technical background (as distinct from Williams's background as a labor lawyer).  Prendergast's vision is technical upgrades, and therefore wants engineering and technical types, and so, Williams was pink-slipped and replaced by Patrick Nowakowski, who does have a track record overseeing commuter rail infrastructure upgrades in Philadelphia and Washington.

Well now, it turns out that Williams struck a deal with LIRR and MTA.  She is still in the LIRR's employ as a consultant, still drawing a salary, and, in such a posture, will soon qualify for a full pension -- all in return for her to not bring a lawsuit against LIRR/MTA for gender discrimination.

Is Williams playing the gender card?  Obviously yes.  Was she given disparately poor treatment on account of her gender?  Could very well be.  If it were just Williams and the MTA/LIRR establishment, then all would be evenly matched and the whole thing would not be much concern to anyone else.

But because of this labor contract negotiation, the LIRR/MTA has placed itself into a "can't win" position.  If LIRR is so financially strapped that they just cannot afford to raise the salaries and benefits of the rank-and-file workforce, then how were they able to come up with Helena's lagniappe?  And why would they settle the dispute so quickly and quietly if there were no basis for Helena's implied claim of gender discrimination?

Governor Andrew Cuomo has been saying that he has no intention of insinuating himself into the LIRR's labor dispute.  It must be remembered that when Andy's father, Mario, was Governor, he did step in to pressure the MTA to settle the threatened rail strike. 

Until a few days ago, LIRR/MTA could claim the moral high ground.  Now, that territory is occupied by neither.  Not that I have any great admiration for Andy Cuomo, but he now has an opportunity to claim the moral high ground abandoned by the MTA/LIRR.

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