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Bus rides slowed in muck of MTA-transit union contract feud

October 24, 2019 Jose Martinez, THE CITY
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This story was originally published on Oct. 24 by THE CITY. 

Repeated “safety checks” at bus depots around the city are snagging commutes, THE CITY has learned, with the union for transit workers locked in an increasingly nasty contract dispute with the MTA.

According to union and management sources, drivers at depots in Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn have been slowed multiple times since last month by Transport Workers Union Local 100 leaders insisting on inspections before buses hit the streets.

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“We’re showing the public that things can get worse,” a source told THE CITY. “But the idea is that the public needs to tell the governor to settle this contract.”

The safety inspections — on bus tires, turn signals, lights, doors and interiors — are one way to work around the state’s Taylor Law, which prohibits transit workers from striking or hampering passenger service.

Sources said there have not been similar actions in the subway, where union leaders have, in years past, asked train operators to slow trains during labor disputes. The last transit strike, in late 2005, lasted 2 1/2 days.

‘Routine’ inspections

A spokesperson for the MTA denied there has been an uptick in the frequency or length of “routine”  bus inspections.

“A small percentage of buses have been delayed from leaving depots, as few as a total of 20 buses per day out of hundreds dispatched,” said Tim Minton, the MTA spokesperson. “The impact on customer wait times has been negligible.”

The safety checks have taken place at the East New York and Flatbush depots in Brooklyn, the sources said, along with the Casey Stengel depot in Queens and others in Manhattan.

They’ve occurred as talks for a new contract have gotten ugly, with some union leaders calling for MTA Chairman Patrick Foye to recuse himself from negotiations amid a bitter public feud over an email to Tony Utano, president of TWU Local 100.

The two sides have been without a contract since May 15. Labor unrest has been growing for months with Gov. Andrew Cuomo assailing surging MTA overtime costs and union leaders threatening to strike.

‘Keep on poking the bear’

On Wednesday, dozens of transit workers filed into an MTA board meeting to verbally attack the agency and its chairman, repeatedly calling him “Patrick Fraud.” One union official, J.P. Patafio, said the union will “have some tar and feathers” for Foye at a rally next week.

“Keep on poking the bear,” Patafio said. “You poke the bear too much, the bear gets up and smacks you in the head.”

“I don’t know how this all ends, but I do know one thing: You pissed off 40,000 transit workers,” said Peter Rosconi, a vice president with the union.

Foye declined to discuss the contract talks, but said he could take the shots from the union.

“If I wanted a job where I was universally loved, I would have done something else,” Foye said. “And I think unions have had problems with MTA chairs in the past and I think it goes with the job.”

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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