The MTA plans to dock two days’ worth of pay for hundreds of workers who failed to show up during Hurricane Sandy, the New York Daily News first reported Thursday.
A little more than week after Hurricane Sandy shuttered New York City’s entire transit system and forced staff to work around the clock and get subways running again far ahead of expert estimates, tensions between Metropolitan Transit Authority workers and management are brewing.
MTA officials confirmed workers who did not come to work or make contact with their supervisors on Oct. 29 and 30 will not be paid for those days.
"We realize that some of our workers are facing the same issues as others hit hard by this storm. However, they still have the responsibility of contacting supervision and alerting us to their work status," MTA spokesman Charles Seaton told The Huffington Post in an email. "If someone never came in, never called, never told us what they were going to do, they will not be paid."
But union officials insist that some transit workers were told to stay away from work and that many who live in the city had no way to get there, with subway and bus service having been suspended starting on Oct. 28.
“The vast majority of our members live in New York City and are just as dependent on mass transit as everyone else,” said Jim Gannon, a spokesman for Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents about 36,000 hourly wage subway and bus system staff. "If it’s not running, they can’t get there.”
Many of the union's members also live in the particularly hard hit Coney Island area in Brooklyn, Gannon said. So a phone call may not have been an option.
“It’s a double whammy,” Gannon said. “It absolutely doesn’t have to be this way.”
The Daily News reported that an internal MTA memo circulated on Friday announced that all hourly employees who took the day off without calling in will not be paid or must prove they called or attempted to call a supervisor, according to TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen, who spoke with the paper. Workers may also apply to use sick days or vacation to make up for time they were away from work.
Hourly wage transit workers can earn between $16.11 and $35.51 an hour, according to information provided by TWU Local 100. That means MTA's decision could cost an MTA worker who serves as an electronic specialist as much as $568.16 and a bus driver as much as $479.36, before taxes.
In a statement, Samuelsen said transit workers had been assured they would be paid for time away from work on Oct. 29 and 30. Samuelsen's statement reads, in part:
Over the last several days, I have had repeated conversations with senior management at the MTA, including NYC Transit President Tom Prendergast and MTA Bus President Darryl Irick, which resulted in an agreement that those who were unable to get into work on 10/29 and 10/30 would be paid.
Today the MTA reneged on the agreement they made with TWU Local 100. They have thoroughly demonstrated that their word means nothing, and that they do not know the meaning of good faith.
In some departments, we were outright told to stay home with pay for Monday and Tuesday. We were not given the option of coming into work. In every department, we were prevented from getting into work because of the decision of the Governor to shut the system down. The decision was not ours and we should not have to bear the cost.
Sandy's storm surge pushed salt water into all but one of the tunnels that trains and cars use to travel between Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey. At one of the system’s most damaged subway stations in Lower Manhattan, so much salt water and storm debris spilled in that tiles were stripped from the walls.
On Oct. 30, some transit construction workers and engineers joined state transit staff and federal water removal experts working round the clock shifts to restore the subway system to working order. Two transit workers -- one who lives in the Bronx and the other who lives in Brooklyn -- told The Huffington Post that they were able to report to work because the MTA had sent vans to pick them up at designated locations. Bus drivers and other staff who work above ground began operating that afternoon, and partial subway service returned on Nov. 1.
A 2011 state-commissioned study estimated that a storm like Sandy would take the subway system down for a week to several months. When partial service returned Nov. 1, MTA workers garnered accolades for their efforts.
The union is currently in the midst of ongoing contract negotiations with the MTA. Discussions began in January after the union’s current agreement expired. That contract does not include provisions for a system shutdown caused by a natural disaster.