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Samuelsen Moves to End "Civil War" At Local 100

Curtis Tate and John SamuelsenIn an exclusive story, the January 12th edition of the New York Daily News reported that newly-elected TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen has offered a Union job to his election opponent Curtis Tate. The bruising contest for Local 100's top job was unusually long and bitter, due to a decision made by the Local 100 Executive Board early last year to hold the main vote in June, but not to open the ballots until December. As a result, the campaign continued for longer than any in the history of the TWU.

Just prior to the election a renewed burst of campaigning focused on several hundred newly hired transit workers who had just become eligible to vote and whose participation both sides considered crucial to winning.

When Samuelsen won, he made immediate moves in the direction of union democracy, tapping his Recording Secretary to give the Union's first statement against the MTA budget before the New York State Assembly's Committee on Corporations. His hiring of Tate, he told the News, was to create a united front against MTA management. "Infighting has crippled us," he said. "I'm looking to unify the union and get ready to face off against the MTA and the threat of layoffs.

In other remarks, Samuelsen noted that he had promised while campaigning to "end the perpetual state of civil war" within TWU Local 100. He also said he would keep his campaign pledge to end the hiring of Executive Board members into union staff positions. This move, he said, dilutes the power of the Presidency in the interests of union democracy.

Tate, for his part, told the News that his hiring "signals the election is over and it's time for everybody to lay down their swords and come together for Local 100."

TWU Local 100 Slams MTA Over Operating Budget

Benita JohnsonIn the new Local 100 Administration’s first public statement, Recording Secretary Benita Johnson slammed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for diverting funds meant for operating expenses into the capital budget. This has created a crisis of service cuts and fare hikes for students which didn’t have to happen, the union says.

“There are straightforward and practical solutions to the MTA’s budget woes,” Ms. Johnson told Assemblyman Richard Brodsky at the January 7th hearing before the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions, “[and] I am not talking about service cuts, layoffs, or the elimination of student passes.” Ms. Johnson testified at the hearing at the request of Local 100 President John Samuelsen.

Ms. Johnson pointed out that, over the past four years, the MTA has diverted some $500 million in operating revenues to pay for capital work on a “pay-as-you go basis.” This “raiding” of the operating budget to pay for capital projects continues to the tune of $50 million in the current year. Local 100 believes these monies could be better spent on restoring service to riders who depend on mass transit.

Furthermore, the MTA has declined to take advantage of the opportunity to use $90 million in ARRA stimulus funds to support subway and bus operations, preferring to use the money for such purposes as funding cost overruns on the Fulton Street Transit Center, scheduled to open in 2014. “We should all be outraged by this,” Johnson said, asking the MTA to join with Local 100 in supporting HR 2746, proposed legislation which calls for more additional operating assistance to mass transit systems.

MTA Chairman Jay Walder, at the hearing, said that he intends to see that “every single dollar is well spent.” Local 100 believes the most effective way to cuts costs is to shift reliance on outside contractors for critical capital projects to its in-house experienced workforce. In her testimony, Ms. Johnson documented three cases of cost-over-runs – the SONET system, the computer-based control system, and the Automatic Train Supervision System – which have added over $200 million to budgeted totals because of failures on the part of outside contractors.  

In the area of labor relations, Mr. Walder did not indicate whether the MTA plans to appeal the decision by the State Court of Appeals recognizing the recent contract terms awarded through arbitration between Local 100 and the MTA. In a statement, Local 100 said, "We hope that the MTA takes its goal of making sure that “every dollar is well spent,” by not wasting taxpayer dollars on misguided litigation. Our members received a contract award which was less than the Citywide pattern awarded to municipal workers over the same period. To appeal the award after this point only continues to make a mockery of the Taylor Law, which calls for arbitration to settle labor disputes."

The Kids Aren't All Right

Teens Protest

by Silver Tyler

The realities of what our public school kids learn in school and what politicians actually do collided like two trains going in opposite directions last Monday outside MTA headquarters. Entitled to a free, compulsory education, students will now have to pay to get to school, under the newly-adopted MTA budget for 2010.

The freezing cold weather couldn’t keep hundreds of teens -- some of whom left school early -- from gathering at 3PM outside 347 Madison Avenue to protest the MTA's decision to end the student MetroCard program.

Chanting, “We won’t pay, MTA!” and “Shame on you!” the students, parents and advocates roared their disapproval of the MTA's plan to phase out free and discounted fares for the over half a million students who currently receive them. Half the discount would be eliminated by September 2010, with the rest to go by 2011. The cuts are a consequence of dramatic decreases in State and City funding for the public authority, with mismanagment of projects llike the renovation of 2 Broadway also taking their toll.

The MTA itself currently pays $70 million to fund the student MetroCard program, but this is slated to end.

Going to school is a law, so you shouldn’t have to pay,” said Marisa Gershenhorn, a freshman at LaGuardia-Mann High School in Manhattan, who stood next to fellow students Megan Crawford, who commutes two hours from Mill Basin in Brooklyn, and Eowyn Bennett, whose trip from East New York takes her ninety minutes each morning.

Mayor Bloomberg’s education reforms have led to the closing of many neighborhood high schools, forcing more students to use public transportation and endure lengthy commutes.

Land of the FreeBrendan Spadaro and Conor Sinott, both juniors who live in Brooklyn and attend the charter School of the Future on East 22nd Street, said they and their friends would do whatever it takes to get to school if the funding was cut.  All say they plan to start hopping the turnstiles if they have to, rather than skip school.  Spadaro also pointed out that sometimes the Metro Card vending machines don’t work at their local stations and there is no Station Agent to assist them, making it impossible to buy a new MetroCard.

“Twenty-five hundred dollars a year is too much,” said Lucas London, 15, who attends the same school  as Spadaro and Sinott, and takes the 6 train from the Upper East Side. “I’m middle class, but so many students aren’t, and they’d have to cut back on things the family needs.  This is going to destroy families.”

Two representatives from the University Student Senate at CUNY, Tatiana Benjamin, Vice Chairperson for the Senior Colleges, and Cory Provost, Chairperson of the USS and a Board Trustee at CUNY, came out to lend their support.  Mr. Provost, who graduated from Thomas Jefferson HS in 2003, and received the full benefit of the program, said he empathizes with the students.  “In this economic climate cutting the funds is unconscionable.”

"They are the future,” said Ms. Benjamin, as they stood watching.

Pink Cards

 

 

Could Retirees Get Shorted Again? It's as easy as A-C-H

clawback.jpg
by Danny Burstein

"Direct Deposit" is a handy way, and in many cases the only way, of getting salary and other payments into your bank accounts.

For the recipient, it has the advantages of being automatically handled "behind the scenes" with no trip to the bank needed.

And many financial institutions encourage the process by, for example, tying it in with "free checking" and other benefits. (But note that one of the biggest banks, Citicorp, will be ending that nicety come next year).

Both the paying agents (the company/gov't/retirement service) and the receiving destinations prefer it because it reduces paperwork and personnel costs.

In general it's a "win win" for just about everyone involved. Until things go wrong. Go wrong. Go wrong.

What the banks, non bank banks, and non bank non banks don't tell you is that, just like money can be transferred into your account, it can also be pulled from there.

And for over 50,000 retirees of NYC's United Federation of Teachers, t'was a rude awakening.

Per the UFT website and contemporary news reports:

"Some 53,000 UFT retirees had their monthly pension checks abruptly withdrawn from their accounts on Nov. 6, causing all sorts of distress for those counting on the money. The Bank of New York Mellon, a global financial services company that handles Teachers' Retirement System deposits, 'reversed' $189 million in October pension checks that it had put in 64,000 retirees' accounts by direct deposit just days before."

Getting bank officials to talk on the record about this issue s just about impossible. But as one colleague who prefers to be identified as "an independent computer programming consultant with a bit of experience working with Very Large Financial Institutions" puts it, "once you 'offer the keys' to a bank account to another organization via direct deposit you cannot 'change the lock' without closing that particular account and opening another one."

This source added that the only difference between a direct deposit and a clawback is "the arithmetic sign of the amount being applied to the account. For simplicity's sake: a negative deposit is the same as a withdrawal, a negative withdrawal is the same as a deposit."

Even worse from a safety standpoint is that, under the standard automated clearing house" ("ACH") interbank arrangements, there's very little to stop ANY validated member from grabbing money from your account.

This works fine if, for example, you've authorized the local utility to dip in to pay your monthly telephone bill. But there are cases aplenty of such groups continuing to stick their fingers into accounts after the service was canceled.

And while it's fine for your local supermarket to take that "check" you hand the cashier and convert it into an immediate electronic debit (eliminating, alas, any "float" you've been accustomed to), there's very little to stop that supermarket from re-entering that request two months from now.

There are numerous safeguards in the systems, so, for example, a car dealer in Nigeria can't dip into 5,000 accounts at Mid-City Bank and Trust, but there are also, by necessity, any paths under the "fraud radar."

The best option is to find a bank that won't allow any "pulls" on your account. But good luck on finding one. When I asked around, not one of the half dozen institutions spoke with said they could guarantee it.

Sending a note to your bank ahead of time reminding them that you don't authorize these withdrawals won't stop them, but it'll help in recovery.

And that's the next issue: Namely, how do you get the money back?

In this case, with 50,000 dips, the Bank of New York Mellon quickly acknowledged its error and redeposited the funds within a few days. They also agreed to cover any additional costs to the depositers, such as bounced checks.

This still left people with hours of problems and embarrassments. And no doubt, there were people who ran into secondary issues such as, for example, having insurance policies that hiccuped when the payments bounced.

The bigger problem is that the entire process is based on trust in the system. And, it seems, there's no choice these days to opt out of it. Few if any banks will put an electronic wall up on your account. And while a clear case like this will get restored quickly, trying to fix an "extra" bill from,say, a cellular company that's been authorized to bill for the past five years will cause lots of grief.

The best ways to keep your account secure from a crippling blow are the obvious ones. The first is to separate out your savings into different accounts and institutions. The second is to keep a sharp eye out for any unexpected draw-downs.

And, it wouldn't hurt to send a note to your bank asking them for their policy on automatic draw-downs.

Key websites:

The United Federation of Teachers:
http://www.uft.org

The Bank of NY Mellon:
http://www.bnymellon.com/processing.html

 

Early Bus Gets the Patient

crew 44th StreetNOVEMBER 18TH, BROOKLYN -- A crew from the Park Slope Volunteer Ambulance Corps, based about 2.5 miles from an accident in Sunset Park, arrived first on scene at 44th Street and 5th Avenue at around 7:40 PM Wednesday night, beating out a "voluntary" ambulance from Maimonides Medical Center. An FDNY EMS ambulance, also en route, was canceled by police, according to EMS sources. The first arriving ambulance generally transports the patient.

The patient, a middle-aged man, was taken to Lutheran Medical Center. Park Slope VAC Chief of Operations Dale Garcia, who was on the call, would not comment on his condition. He was sprawled on the street near the Dominican Car Service. The PS VAC medics immobilized him using a cervical collar and backboard. Police on scene assisted, as did the crew from Maimonides Medical Center, based in nearby Borough Park.

The Park Slope VAC does several thousand calls a year, resulting in about 500 patient transports, according to their website. While a FDNY EMS Paramedic earns about $60,000 a year, Garcia is not paid for his ambulance duty at PSVAC. His paying job is with a private EMS provider.

Volunteerism is alive and well in EMS, reflecting a sentiment once found scrawled on an EMS locker at Metropolitan Hospital: "I like this job so much, I'd do it for free. Unfortunately, they know that."

The EMS Union, Local 2507 of District Council 37, generally ignores what might be considered volunteer ambulance companies' incursions into their territory, training their fire instead on private hospitals like Maimonides which they accuse of steering paying patients back to their own institutions. The indigent, the Union has claimed, often get brought to City hospitals. There are nine volunteer fire companies in New York City, but they do a small volume of calls, on par with volunteer EMS outfits, and are tolerated by the FDNY. There are no volunteer armed police.

c spineWhile private, hospital-based ambulances account for about half of Advanced Life Support 911 calls (with FDNY EMS accounting for the other half), the Volunteers like PS VAC do only a relative handful of 911 jobs, and often don't bill for the service.

How the volunteers get the EMS calls is a matter of some contention. They have emergency numbers but most people don't know them by heart and call 911 instead. Volunteer ambulances can be dispatched within the EMS 911 system as part of the Mutual Aid Response System (MARS), but this is relatively rare. Volunteers have been known to "buff" EMS 911 calls by listening for them on NYPD frequencies and then rolling. Garcia said that the PSVAC didn't do this on the Sunset Park call, instead receiving a call informing them of a man down. In any case, it's hard to argue with crews who want to help, and don't mind doing it for free.

 in the ambulance

 

Aides Fired as Lawsuit Proceeds

Councilwoman and AidesFriday the 13th was scarier for hundreds of parents this year than it was for their kids. 530 School Aides, represented by District Council 37, were fired that day as the DOE acted to reduce head count. Some of the fired Aides held a rally the following Tuesday outside of P.S. 375 on East 111th Street, in Spanish Harlem.

Jeanette Soto, one of the Aides who was fired, said “it was a smack in the face” when she went home on October 2nd to find a letter in her mailbox terminating her employment.  Marilyn Rosado, who had been working at the school for three years, and performs a range of essential tasks daily such as tracking immunizations, copying homework assignments and texts for kids, as well as acting as a business supply manager, said it was “shocking” when friends called her to ask if the principal of the school had informed her of the firings.

Local 372 sued to prevent the firings on the grounds that they were discriminatory in nature, but declined to post a $780,000 bond demanded by the Department of Education to keep them employed while the case was adjudicated. State Supreme Court Justice Carol Edmead agreed to the requirement. The Union’s position was that posting such a bond would be a bad precedent for labor relations. It hopes to see the Aides re-hired with back pay.

“We are here to tell Mayor Bloomberg, the D.O.E, Joel Klein, and Governor Patterson: no more cuts to education!!!” chanted the protestors.  Aide Sheanica Davis, who also has two children at the school, ages seven and eleven, fought back tears as she told the assembled crowd of parents, local politicians, protesters and community leaders about the effects the cuts have had.  Without anyone to watch them, she said, “I don’t feel my kids are safe inside the school.”  Since the firings, she said, there are only two safety officers to watch the more than eleven exits of the four schools in the building, and just the day before, a child reported missing to the police was believed to have left the school through one of the unattended doors.
three aides
 “There is no longer anyone to meet the children at the school buses outside the school,” added Davis, who, along with Rosado and Soto also described how students now had to eat lunch in their classrooms and were not being allowed outside for recess breaks since the school no longer had the proper personnel for supervision.

New York City Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito of the 8th Council District said she was “very concerned” about the cuts, and that “even in these difficult financial times we have to be mindful of the community’s concerns.  The decisions regarding the schools that are being made are not collaborative,” she said.

“Actions are taken without us and then we are forced to react.  We want to sit down and be part of the decision-making process,” the Councilwoman said. Viverito has a meeting scheduled with the D.O.E this week. “We are here to demand accountability, to organize, raise voices and work collaboratively to minimize what the individual constituents have to deal with. The working poor and working families need relief,” she added.

Corey Ortega, Special Assistant to Keith Wright, Member of the Assembly, 70th District, also came out to lend his support and expressed concern about schools across the board getting cuts.

crowd near schoolMirroring the Union’s argument before the Supreme Court, Former Aide Davis said that schools serving populations with lowest income were disproportionately affected by the cuts. She added that she believed the staff cuts at P.S. 375 were designed to make the school fail to meet targets, paving the way for a building takeover by the charter school Harlem Success, which had previously tried to establish itself there.

Protesters at the rally say they are ready to do whatever it takes to reverse the firings. “We will continue to fight for a quality education even if that means getting together with other schools across the city and having a massive walk-out.  We are willing to boycott the school system until they stop the cuts to education,” one said.

 


 

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