Yesterday afternoon, Streetsblog NYC Editor Ben Friend posted an informative Q&A with Transport Workers Union Local 100 President John Samuelsen. Here is a quick sample:
Last December, John Samuelsen was elected president of TWU Local 100, the union that represents 38,000 subway and bus workers in the New York City region. He assumed the leadership from former president Roger Toussaint at a troubled time for the transit system. With transit tax revenues in free fall and state lawmakers raiding MTA coffers to plug holes in the general budget, transit riders and transit jobs were under threat.
Streetsblog readers often ask about the role New York’s biggest transit union is playing in tough legislative fights over issues like road pricing and bus lane enforcement. Under Toussaint, the TWU was quiet in the campaigns to win transit funding in Albany by enacting congestion pricing or bridge tolls. Recently, Samuelsen has perhaps been most visible on the national scene, joining social justice and environmental advocates to push for increased federal funding for transit service.
Ben Fried: The big transit story of the year is the service cuts that are on the table and which the MTA Board has voted to enact. Lets start by outlining how the TWU is responding to the cuts.
John Samuelsen: There are significant lobbying efforts going on in Albany with some bills in the mix that have the potential of stopping the whole thing. First of all let me backtrack. [MTA Chair Jay] Walder and the MTA were given a billion dollars in federal stimulus money in 2009. Out of that billion dollars they could have used roughly $100 million to pay down the service cuts and to use for the operating budget.
So Walder, who had that money in the bank, and probably still has that money in the bank, refused to use that $100 million, and instead enacted $93 million in cuts across the board, Long Island Railroad, Metro North, and New York City Transit, and MTA bus. So that’s the first thing I wanted to say, because that sets the tone for a lot of our reaction.
And one thing we’ve done is we’re working on a bill in Albany that’s being carried by Joan Millman in the Assembly, and by Bill Perkins in the Senate, that will force the MTA to use 30 million of that available 100 million. It’s essentially the state legislature directing Jay Walder to use available funds that he has in order to stop the service cuts. That’s the first item in Albany.
The second item in Albany is the bill that’s being carried by Keith Wright in the Assembly that would put a two year moratorium on any kind of service cut that the MTA proposes that could have a potential negative impact on rider safety in the subway. And it’s being carried by Dilan in the Senate. Those are two items that we’re working on heavily now in Albany.
In addition, working with the transportation committees on both sides, and the authorities committees to come up with enough budgetary cash in order to give the MTA the savings equivalent that they would make from laying off the 500 or so station agents. Also bearing in mind that a lot of the statutory funding that is earmarked for the MTA was confiscated by the state and put into the general budget.
Click here for the complete Q&A.
I have a problem with this Q&A. My problem does not lie with Ben who does an excellent job with Streetsblog. I take issue with the stance Mr. Samuelsen is taking in terms of financing. What is his obsession (& others for that matter) with using the allowed portions of stimulus funds to pay down the budget deficit? The fact is the money that could have legally been used accounts for less than 5% of the total deficit.
Mr. Samuelsen needs to find better priorities to sink his teeth into. Wasting time over an amount that is a drop in the bucket shows a lack of leadership & legitimate ideas in my honest opinion. I know that his job is to protect his members. However instead of going all out to protect some unnecessary jobs, how about worrying about the riding public who has to deal with service cuts due to the absolute need to trim the budget deficit?
I urge Mr. Samuelsen to get his priorities in order because as much as I support our workforce, they are not the only people involved in this equation. The sooner he realizes that, the better off his reign will be for not only himself, but his workers & riders as well. So what is it going to be John?
xoxo Transit Blogger