A Class By Itself

Now the the transit strike is finally over, analysts are now trying to figure out what if anything can be learned from the strike. As you might expect, what you’ll find is subject to the spin of the source. The NYTimes blames both sides and hits the classic liberal trifecta calling the strike a “clash of race, culture and class.” Others discuss the ramifications of the pensions, with the NYPost taking the perspective of the city and MSNBC covering the viewpoint of the workers.
In discussing the economics of the strike, it is tempting as many outlets have done, to focus exclusively on the Government and the Union. In this dichotomy, the Government gets the role of the Big Corporation while the Union represents the downtrodden. Fortunately, others have recognized that there is a third economic group involved – the people of New York. Yes, everyone covered that the people were thoroughly inconvenienced, but there has been a growing awareness among that not all “workers” are equal. Compared to many of their fellow New Yorkers, the TWU actually have fairly sweet deal already. As Forbes reports:

    According to the Manhattan Institute, the average bus or subway driver–the most-skilled job in the union by most standards–is already paid $63,000 a year. The person who sits behind the bullet-proof glass in what used to be called a token booth, and who now says for most purchases you have to use the metro-card machines, takes down an average of $51,000. And the least-skilled work, though certainly the dirtiest, is the subway cleaner who clocks in at an average of $40,000.
    Compare that with the average New York worker. Take out Wall Street, where mega-bonuses skew the average unfairly, and the average private sector worker earns $49,000. Peel off the college-educated (which you don’t need for most transit jobs) and the average income drops to well below $35,000. That includes everyone from a skilled factory worker to the clerk in Bloomingdale’s.
    Nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average unskilled worker (we’ll put the cleaners in that category) earns $23,753 a year in the private sector; in the public sector that jumps to $30,056, but is still ten grand less than a New York subway cleaner. The disparity jumps even further when you look at the nationwide “transportation workers” as a specialty. There the average annual wage is $30,846 in the private sector and $34,611 in the public sector. Clearly, it pays to work for the government. But it pays even better to work for the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority)–indeed 80% better. New York is expensive, but not that expensive.

Note that this doesn’t even account for the guaranteed pensions and that Transit Workers can retire at 55, thereby cashing in even more.
Despite the occasional socialist rantings, maybe there really is a class warfare going on in New York, but it’s not simply between the Big and Little Guys – the haves and have nots. Bloomberg implied as much saying, “You’ve got people making $50,000 and $60,000 a year keeping people who are making $20,000 and $30,000 a year from being able to earn a living. That’s just not acceptable.”
Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that unions may deserve their own economic class to account for their financial and political security which is disproportionate to skill or education.
On some level, the public is starting to realize just how different the regular workers are when compared to the unions. The TWU itself reminded the New Yorkers of this by causing many to not work or lose business. As a consequence, it’s possible that the public’s response could extend beyond vitriol to the point where the Unions may actually lose political capital as well.

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