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How the Grinch stole Christmas

The transit strike, the first in a quarter century, began at 3 a.m. Tuesday after negotiations between the union and the transit authority broke down over the authority's last-minute demand that all new transit workers contribute 6 percent of their wages toward their pensions - up from the 2 percent that current workers pay.

The big story of the strike is pretty sad: it's antagonism to the poor, and a beligerent insistence that they ought to be poorer on behalf of everyone else. Mayor Bloomberg, when he goes on television to call the subway workers "selfish," couldn't better live up to the reputation of a billionaire prick. The workers were offered a big fat paycut for Christmas, and for not taking it, they're subject to insult.

A brief summary of the negotiations:

The MTA offers a new contract of lower pay and worse benefits.
The TWU refuses, and requests a few new details (laxer bathroom break rules, for instance).
The MTA offers smaller raises and almost the same benefits.
The TWU considers this and, as far as anyone can tell, prepares to either sign, or postpone striking.
Then, at midnight, the negotiating deadline, the MTA comes back and rescinds their offer. "We screwed up, and need to take 4% more of your wages for the pension plan."
The TWU can't agree to that, and presumably can't negotiate with the MTA, who are either boneheads, or deliberately trying to force a strike before Christmas. A strike is called.

The case for the MTA basically boils down to: we'd rather pay less.

The pension issue is a joke - any stock portfolio is performing badly for the last five years, and to presume that the market is loused forever is pretty dramatic. (Do they know something we don't?)

The "they make what teachers & cops make" is a joke too - I know teachers, and they make the same at 25 as these guys do at 50. Cops in New York have special programs to get OT for standing around in packs of 20; they're doing just fine financially, and I'd love to see the Mayor try to call their union "thuggish" next time he has a hard time negotiating with them.

Ivan would like to replace them all with robots, but of the 33,000, very few are driving trains. (Furthermore, as far as I can tell, even getting the L train robots working is a failure so far - too expensive - and that line has no branching out or express track.) I doubt severely if my Roomba (even 33,000 of them) would help the situation much.

In support of the MTA's position, the Mayor had the gall to accuse the TWU of not having enough feelings of public service. Transit work certainly looks easy - I bought the Post the day they had the cover with the Token guy sleeping at work on it. But it isn't fun. No one's doing it because they love trains, or New Yorkers in a hurry. And those of us who have also slept at work before are lucky we didn't have to work in front of 8 million people who hate us and have phone cams. They're doing it for money, and they're looking forward to retirement. For the MTA to try to cut their wages and then blame them for New York's hassles of this week is bogus.


At 3:16 PM, Blogger Ivan said...

Not all the jobs can be replaced by Robots, but many can.

Any sort of cleaning can, as can driving and selling passes. Mechanics are important, as are security personnel, but both can be improved with the help of automation. Compliments, not replacements.

Bus driving is harder, but is doable, as tests in Pittsburgh have shown.

Perhaps if the people think they aren't paid enough, they should leave jobs. Closed-shops are bad for everyone.

It isn't that I think the workers don't have right to strike. It was certainly their choice to make. I would have responded by firing them all immediately, as should be any employer's right.

Public unions are a growing problem, and the victims are usually low income families that don't work for the state.

At 4:04 PM, Blogger Miguel said...

Not only can the jobs be replaced by robots, but they will. In the meantime, the labor is valuable.

Why leave a job if the employer will pay you the wage you want... because he's reluctant to? Reluctant, fought-over money is still the same color.

When do you think the first robot bus will appear in NYC? Probably more than 20 years is my guess - it's harder to integrate new technology into centuries old infrastructure. (It could be earlier on streets where civilian traffic is disallowed.)

At 5:06 PM, Blogger Ivan said...

If it works in Pittsburgh, it'll work in NYC.

It isn't a question of hitting pedestrians or not being ready. It's a question of when NYC technocrats are willing to accept the robots.

At 10:21 AM, Blogger Miguel said...

Where is the information on this driverless bus? Doesn't it require dedicated lanes?

At 11:32 AM, Blogger Ivan said...

Some European buses are autonomous and on dedicated lines.

The city-street buses at CMU are currently still research. The technology is there, perhaps the funding is lacking.

This is a good place to start looking. A system like this can be deployed as a way to phase in robot buses.

At 2:14 PM, Blogger Miguel said...

I think you have some familiarity with property value in Manhattan, and also a passing knowledge of how comprehensive the bus routes there are. If you're proposing a dedicated lane robot system as a money saver, you've thought about this considerably less than I thought.

At 12:07 PM, Blogger Ivan said...

I meant only to say that you have currently deployed systems which operate on dedicated lanes.

It is an easier problem.

I still think the biggest barriers are officials in charge and anyone who would be replaced with a robot.

Once this reaches maturity (2 years? less?), it won't just be public transportation. Police surveillance bots, commercial transport, always-ready ambulances, etc... you're all solving the same problem: get around fast without hitting anything.


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