Dec 20 2005

Four Balls or One Strike?

Four Balls or One Strike?

In baseball, four balls is a walk.  Today in New York, all it took was one strike, and lots of us were taking long walks – to work, from work, to dinner.  Even though I’m a CEO and “management” and part of the establishment, I don’t have a systematic bias against organized labor or strikes.   Sometimes, they’re entirely warranted.  (Perhaps it helps that my mother-in-law is a senior exec at a major union – hi, Carmen.)  Also, to be fair, I am not up close and personal on the issue of the transit strike here, so maybe I’m missing something.

Those caveats aside, I have a limited amount of sympathy for the TWU and the strikers in today’s walk-out that crippled the city.  Jeff Jarvis lays out a lot of the issues pretty well here, but here’s my take.

– The aging population of the world will ultimately force the customary retirement age up from its current level of 65 years to 70 and beyond in our lifetime.  The union is insisting it stay permanently at 55 for their members and wouldn’t consent to raising it even to 62.  Completely out of touch with reality.

– The MTA is suggesting that new transit employees pay 6% of their salary for 10 years towards their pension; the union is saying that it won’t create two classes of employees (old and new) and that it’s only appropriate for members to pay 2% of their salary for 10 years towards their pension.  Hello – does anyone here know what 401Ks are like in the private sector?  They’re based exclusively on employee contributions.  Again, the union seems completely out of touch with reality.

– The MTA is now offering a  12% raise over three years to the union; the union is holding firm at a 30% raise over three years.  30%!  Do you run your business that way?  Oy.

– The rationale that “the transit system has a big surplus this year, therefore we are entitled to a big piece of it” is just nonsense.  Ask for a bigger than usual holiday bonus if you want.  But don’t pretend that this year’s surplus is a permanent grab bag.

– There’s a reason it’s against the law for MTA employees to go on strike.  When employees of a company go on strike, they hurt the company and its shareholders, and it’s management’s job to scramble and serve customers wherever possible.  When MTA employees strike, the main people who get hurt are the customers, since the “company” is a public authority with no earnings, shareholders, etc. and since the customers don’t have alternatives.

Worse, it’s not just subway and bus riders who get hurt by losing wages or having to schlep around in the freezing cold weather on foot, it’s unrelated businesses that get hurt because they can’t staff up and because their customers stay away.  The collateral damage is too high, and public employees know it’s against the law to go on strike when they sign up for their jobs in the first place.  Presumably they’re getting things like the amazing level of job security that seems to come with public sector jobs in exchange for giving up the right to strike.

We are reasonably lucky at Return Path that we’re in an industry where it’s possible for so many of our employees to telecommute.  We had about 50% attendance in the office today, in the odd pattern of Manhattanites and suburbanites, but not those people who live in between the two in the outer boroughs of the city.  Most people who didn’t come in worked valiantly from home, but our accounting department, all of whose members live in the outer boroughs and none of whom have remote access into our accounting system for control reasons, had a bitch of a time getting anything done remotely.

So tomorrow — and other days if this nonsense continues — we will probably be sending out a car service to pick up our accounting department as a carpool and bring them to and from work at our own expense so we can conduct business.

I wonder if union boss Roger Toussaint would like to pick up the tab for that with his new fancy 30% (or even 12%) raise.