With Gov. Cuomo’s prodding, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority reached a reasonable agreement with the union representing 34,000 bus and subway workers. The five-year deal calls for a reasonable pay increase in return for union concessions on health care contributions and other issues.
The deal inevitably drew some criticism from those who believe it was too generous, but an 8 percent increase over the course of five years shouldn’t break the MTA’s bank. True, the agency’s board warned several months ago that an increase in labor costs could lead to all manner of disasters—not least of them being higher fares. But that alarmist rhetoric has been put aside in favor of a big group hug among MTA executives and union leaders, with Mr. Cuomo smack in the middle of the huddle.
There will be no new fare hikes even though workers will receive a 1 percent retroactive raise for 2012 and 2013, followed by annual 2 percent increases in 2014, ’15, and ’16. Part of that expense will be covered by union givebacks, including a change, from three years to five years, in the time it takes to reach top pay in certain job titles.
Workers also will pay slightly more for their health care benefits, up from 1.5 percent to 2 percent. That’s only fair, but here’s the rub: Many public employees, including the bus and subway workers, still need to chip in more to help pay for the skyrocketing cost of fringe benefits, including pensions.
Say this about the embattled Chris Christie: If he is remembered for one thing other than Bridgegate, it will be how he worked with New Jersey Democrats to achieve a desperately needed reform of state health benefits. Workers who paid nothing or next to nothing will, over the course of five years, pay a third of their health insurance premiums.
That kind of dramatic reform won’t happen in Albany in an election year, nor, it seems, will it happen in Bill de Blasio’s City Hall. But it will happen, sooner or later, because it simply must. Ironically, the costs of pensions and benefits for public workers in New York are shredding the social safety net, because as mandated costs go up, there’s less money to spend on other programs.
The small hike in health care contributions for transit workers is a positive. But New York needs much more reform, and soon.