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The next stop: MTA-LIRR deal

A subway train conductor checks the platform as

A subway train conductor checks the platform as the train the train doors are ready to close at Penn Station in Manhattan Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. Credit: Craig Ruttle

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will be able to give 180 New York City subway stations a single deep clean with ... wait for it ... heavy-duty cleaning products and equipment. That’s considered a win in the new four-year contract agreement between the MTA and the Transport Workers Union.

The union will allow the MTA to bring in a third-party contractor to give as many as 180 stations a good scrubbing, continuing a job begun last year on more than 100 other stations.

Beyond the cleaning, the TWU contract includes reasonable raises, and some cost savings in health care and overtime, but, while it tinkers around the edges of change, it barely makes a dent in the significant work rules that really cost the authority time or money.

The MTA is going to have to do better when it comes to negotiations with the Long Island Rail Road unions next year.

The TWU agreement encourages expedited work on accessibility improvements and the use of technology in flagging and other safety measures. That’s welcome. But what is clear is that the bigger issues, particularly in terms of how to more permanently change the way the MTA does business, remain largely unsolved.

On the cleaning issue, for instance, the agreement says that after the one-time exception to use an outside contractor, cleaning efforts return to the union’s jurisdiction. What may help a bit: the union already had agreed to start using stronger cleaning supplies approved by federal regulators. At least that’ll mean workers hopefully won’t be using Tide to clean the stations anymore, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo complained about earlier this years.

The contract includes an average 2.3 percent salary bump per year. That’s not unreasonable. Transit workers have a tough job, especially as assaults on subway and bus employees are on the rise.

There are a few positives for the MTA, too. Among them: adding a $100 emergency room co-payment for visits that don’t result in admission; with other changes, that should help the authority save $27 million a year on health care costs. Allowing workers to swap shifts could help the MTA save another $17 million a year in overtime costs. But that’s a small sliver compared to what’s needed.

The question now is what the TWU contract means for the LIRR workers’ contracts, also up for negotiation. LIRR employees, like their transit counterparts, deserve reasonable compensation. But the contracts must address costly work rules and enormous overtime expenditures. Many of the recently investigated cases of overtime abuse came from LIRR workers. Also troubling: multiple incidents of vandalism to the MTA’s new biometric clocks, meant to improve timekeeping. Then there are absurd LIRR-specific work rules that must be overhauled, like how employees get paid double for operating diesel and electric engines in the same shift.

If the work-rule changes are as flimsy as those in the TWU contract, however, then little will change in the MTA’s big picture and, once again, real “transformation” — as the MTA likes to call it — will remain a fantasy.

— The editorial board