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Outdated Union Work Rules Driving Up MTA Costs

The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has come under fire of late. It’s been accused of being one the most mismanaged transit authorities in the world. These accusations arise from the MTA being plagued by construction delays and high costs. However, being that all construction on NYC subways has to be 100% completed by union labor, the finger should not only point at the MTA.

The Regional Plan Association (RPA) conducted a study to determine what factors are causing these high costs and delays. The study concluded that outdated union work rules are the root cause of delays and high costs. The RPA study concluded that union work rules are, “out of synch with worldwide industry standards”. They back up this conclusion with data from the MTA megaproject called the Second Avenue Subway. Phase one of this project, which was only three miles, took eight years and $5.57 billion. The can be directly attributed to union work rules.

Union work rules are set by Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA), which determine how employees in each trade handle specific job tasks. Think of CBA’s as a job description designed to ensure that union members aren’t taking the work of other members. However, in practice, they simply waste valuable time. Unlike an adult deer who gracefully and seamlessly runs through the forest, union work rules are the exact opposite. They’re more reflective of a baby deer walking for the first time. It’s slow and inefficient as the animal puts one foot slowly in front of the other.

Union work rules are simply used as a scheme to create as many jobs for as many union members for as long as possible. This is known as “featherbedding,” or spreading employment by unnecessarily maintaining or increasing the number of employees or the time used to complete a particular job. This is clearly shown in the RPA study when it highlights a new technology called Tunnel Boring Machines (TBM). This new technology effectively decreases the time of construction. Other subway projects that adopted the use of TBM’s, such as the Crossrail project in London, were able to save thousands of tax dollars by decreasing the size of their crews. Yet, New York crew sizes remain unchanged, even with the new technology. In the construction industry time is money, and it’s clear that unions don’t care about wasting either. Even if that leaves hardworking taxpayers are left to pick up their tab.

The RPA report shows that those who are not restricted by these rules are more cost-effective. The RPA compared an MTA mega project with a larger project completed in London, called the Crossrail project. They found that even though man-hours on the Crossrail project more than double that of the MTA project, the MTA project still paid twice as much in labor costs. To further back up their claim, the study looked at merit shop bids and noted that their bids come in 20% to 30% lower than the unions. The report asserts that these reduced costs aren’t due to lower wages or benefits, but rather because of merit shop contractors not being chained by the same ridged work rules that drag down productivity.

The Empire State Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors demand that the MTA and State Representatives stop this culture of waste. To do this they need to open the bidding process to merit shop contractors. Anyone that has a basic grasp of economics understands that increasing competition decreases price. New York representatives have a duty to their constituents to effectively and efficiently use every penny that they take in taxes. The norm obviously isn’t working, it’s time to make a change and stop the bleeding. Support your constituents or they will find someone else who will.