For the last few years the NYC subway system has cut back the number of unionized cleaning crews, and it shows. Now, to disinfect all the stations and cars each night it has had to expand the cleaning workforce. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which runs the subways, could have begun by rehiring the unionized cleaners it laid off as recently as last year. But instead it contracted with temp agencies for workers who will be paid not much more than the NYC minimum wage of $15, and who will get no benefits. Permanent employees are unionized, get much higher wages, and health benefits, including paid sick days.
Refusing health benefits is just cruel. These temp workers haven’t even been issued all the protective gear they need. At least one group of cleaners walked off the job because of this. And if the MTA gets away with hiring temps with no benefits who are paid less than the regular, unionized maintenance workers, how much job security will the regular workers have?
The work crew protests have led the NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer to write a letter to the MTA Chairman and CEO to say that these cleaners must have wages and benefits comparable to the unionized workers. But don’t rely on him. He has no authority, and this is just a stunt to promote his candidacy for mayor. In fact, he’s asked all city agencies to make budget cuts.
As to cleaning the trains to create safe conditions, the MTA is requiring these 12-worker crews of temps to clean a 10-car-train in just 5 minutes. What a joke!
The MTA already faces a fiscal crisis that will be made worse by the pandemic. Are MTA officials, bankers and politicians who control the MTA going to try to use the pandemic as an excuse to raise fares, undercut transit workers’ conditions and pay, while skimping on safety measures? The terms on which the new subway cleaners were hired indicate that this will be the plan, unless riders and transit workers organize to stop them.
Featured image credit: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit