Although it appears the MTA is run and maintained by union workers, somehow non-union trades have begun to slip through the door to do construction work in Metro-North’s office spaces. At a recent job awarded to a non-union contractor at 420 Lexington Avenue, non-union carpenters and laborers are bringing up sheet rock and preparing to do renovations after an unexpected flood occurred in their office space. “Three prices came back for bidding,” explained a source. “Two bids were from union contractors and one of them was not. Guess who the MTA picked?”
In accordance with New York State funding, the MTA has to pay prevailing wages and benefits to all contractors. Since this is so, the question is why did the Metro-North choose to go with a non-union shop? Why choose unorganized labor that does not meet the proper safety and training standards when the MTA itself has guidelines and standards for their own employees? When asked about the non-union work, two Metro North employees that requested to be kept nameless said, “Of course we don’t like it but what can we do?”
As for budgeting questions, according to the MTA website, “In total, the MTA will take in 16.72 billion in 2019. The MTA’s largest funding source is revenue we collect from customers. Fifty percent of our revenue comes from tolls (money paid crossing bridges and tunnels) and Farebox Revenues (money paid to ride subways, buses, and trains). We get some dedicated revenues and subsidies from the cities and states we serve.“
Since money is budgeted for improvements and repairs and since the wage must be prevailing, the question is why choose sub-standard labor when the MTA, themselves, are run by union standards?
In a previous interview, a conductor and member of ACRE Local 113 (Association of Commuter Rail Employees) said, “Nothing they’re doing makes sense to me right now. Metro North is not operating at normal service. Our trains are still on a modified schedule of 61% and yet, more people have been coming back to work. How are we supposed to tell people to socially distance if the trains have more passengers? How is our health a priority?” “Even if we said something, they don’t care,” explained the source.
Union shops and trades are important because of their standards for education, safety, skill level, working conditions, quality, and fair wages. The MTA is no stranger to this. However, Metro North has chosen to allow their business to steer away from this strategy. As a result, Metro North has awarded the renovation to unorganized and less-skilled workers.
“Why would they go non-union?” asked one of the sources. “If they have to pay the same as union rates, why not just hire a union shop?” At a time when our City’s economy, health and safety is already compromised, Metro North has chosen to put loyalty to their usual relationships to the side and allow a non-union contractor to sneak their way in.
As a reporter and union employee with a vested interest in keeping our City Union Strong, I reached out to TWU Local 100, Local 2001, ACRE Local 113 and New York City of Carpenters Local 157 to advise them of the situation.
“Trust me,” said a representative of ACRE. “We’re going to look into this.”
Ben Kimmel is a proud member of IUOE Local 94, as well as a Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Certified Recovery Coach, Certified Professional Life Coach and Peer & Wellness Advocate. Ben can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.