Sunday, August 19, 2012
The union rides to the rescue -- again
The yes vote on the new four-year contract by the members of Local 85 of the Amalgamated Transit Workers – the drivers, mechanics, and supervisors of the Port Authority – is another heroic example of our public servants voting for the best interest of the people they serve, even when it means a personal loss.
And these workers took quite a personal hit. They gave back another $60 million dollars in wages and benefits, on top of the concessions from the last four-year contract, adding up to more than $100 million in concessions in the last five years. To save public transit, the workers have agreed to work for and with less.
Their courageous vote will save our region's economy, environment, quality of life, and our future.
Without this vote, massive public transit service cuts and fare increases would devastate our community. With little public transit and a huge influx of cars on the roads, businesses would lose. Their customers would not be able to reach them, and neither would their employees. Travel times for ambulances and fire trucks would vastly increase, meaning the difference between living and dying for some. Just as we are starting to grow our population after decades of loss, our region would be far less attractive to students, workers, and new employers. And the addition of more vehicles on our streets would make our air quality dangerous on far too many days.
These workers cannot – and should not– do it alone. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald led the negotiations, and has pledged to do his part. Gov. Corbett has apparently promised – behind closed doors, as he does most things – to pay the state's fair share temporarily.
But we need to solve the funding issue permanently, and stop demanding more and more concessions from our public workers.
Our state leaders need to stop demonizing both the people who rely on public transportation, and the hard-working people who run it, and pay their fair share.
It's fashionable in many quarters – including some progressive areas – to say that our public workers are out of control, that they demand too much.
People forget that they are our teachers, our police, our firefighters, our bus drivers – and they are all our neighbors. They make our society run.
And we made a pact with them. We agreed to pay them a decent wage, health benefits, limited job security, and to allow them to pay into a pension plan that will allow them to live with dignity after their years of service. They agreed to work hard, and to serve under many restrictions, which varied by group. In most cases, they have limited promotion opportunities, and really good wages come only after decades of service. Many have restricted rights on their political activities. And all agreed to serve the public to their best.
But then came the destruction of our economy. The collapse of the financial industry – caused by the collusion of voracious and gluttonous megabanks that were "too big to fail," and elected officials and regulators who dismantled all protections for the people – meant the pension funds were no longer as healthy. The massive tax cuts to the wealthy during two wars plus a near-depression meant trickle down tax increases in every local community.
Led by the braying rightwing and echoed by the news media, "greedy workers" became the problem. And when no one in Harrisburg would act like an adult, take responsibility, and work to save our vital public transportation system, it was up to the union and its workers to ride to the rescue.
So next time you ride a bus or the T, or even pass one, give those terrific heroes a wave and say thank you. They didn't cause the problem. But they are solving it.
The fare you put in the box is nothing compared to the cost these public servants paid to keep our transportation going. We all owe them a big one.