A deal between MTA management and one of its largest unions will stave off layoffs for hundreds of workers through the end of 2020, but also will require employees working from home to accept a 10% pay cut, union officials said.
The agreement between the Transportation Communication Union, which represents about 2,500 workers, including hundreds at the Long Island Rail Road, and Metropolitan Transportation Authority management came just as a temporary arrangement to allow union members to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic was set to expire.
Several TCU workers, who have been doing their jobs from home since March, had expressed concern in recent weeks about being required to return to their offices. Adding to their uneasiness was the threat of layoffs, as the MTA looks to fill a massive budget deficit caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This agreement ensures that our members can continue working while the MTA makes the necessary provisions to facilitate a safe return to office facilities for all employees," said Nicholas Peluso, national representative for the TCU. "… Employees covered under this agreement are able to continue working through the end of the year without the constant fear of furlough."
MTA spokeswoman Meredith Daniels did not confirm the details of the agreement with the TCU, but said the sides "continue an open dialogue how to best keep a fully staffed workforce and safe work environment during these fiscally challenging times."
"There are many employees at the MTA who are teleworking, including TCU members, and those numbers remain fluid as the MTA, and businesses across the region, reinvent work patterns and procedures," she said.
Under the agreement, which lasts through Jan. 5, employees will receive 90% of their pay when "teleworking," according to the union. Peluso said about 800 TCU members, including clerical and information technology workers, have been working from home. State regulations place limits on how many employees can work at some offices at the same time.
Peluso said the agreement also could defer the potential closure of several LIRR ticket windows — one of the many cuts the MTA has said it will consider if Congress does not grant its $12 billion request in aid to help cover coronavirus expenses. MTA officials have said closing ticket windows would allow them to cut 60 jobs and save $8 million. LIRR ticket agents and clerks are TCU members covered by the agreement.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) addressed the need for a federal bailout of the MTA on the Senate floor Thursday morning. Republican lawmakers have expressed reluctance to provide further aide to transit providers, including the MTA, which received $3.9 billion from Washington in March.
But Schumer noted that the MTA carries about 40% of the nation’s transit users, and, in doing so, drives about 10% of the gross domestic product.
"God forbid if public transportation was forced to shutter or drastically reduce operations — like on Long Island were they rely on the Long Island Rail Road — the damage to regional economies and the national economy would be severe," Schumer said.
In making its case for aid, the MTA has joined more than 100 transit operators in the United States in the American Public Transportation Association's Health and Safety Commitments Program. The agencies have pledged to take the necessary steps to operate safely during the pandemic, including by following public health guidelines, cleaning and disinfecting vehicles frequently, and keeping passengers informed.
American Public Transportation Association president Paul Skoutelas said public transportation providers have been doing their part throughout the pandemic, including transporting essential workers to their jobs, which "makes the need for additional emergency funding that much more urgent."