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The Blood is the Life: Why the NYC Transit Strike Is a Killer

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Okay, those of you who are not New Yorkers really might not care about this, but you should. What happens in New York does affect the country, so the NYC transit strike makes Wall Street and other businesses suffer, and thus so do all Americans and people around the world from the economic impact. Anyway, the first system-wide transit strike since 1980 went into effect around 3am today, and the end doesn’t appear to be in sight.

What is this all about? Well, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has refused to budge on the Transit Workers Union’s (TWU) main points: pay, pension, and health care for new hires. TWU head Peter Toussaint sounded worn and weary as he announced the strike early this morning and proclaimed it to start immediately.

New Yorkers depend on mass transit; the buses and subways are the life blood of the city. Anyone who has worked in Manhattan knows that without this very dependable, surprisingly affordable (despite some complaints), and relatively swift system that we would stop functioning.

I’ve heard talk this morning of how “they should all get fired” for striking, yet a good friend who happens to be a city bus driver (and will remain anonymous here) and all the other workers just want an honest wage, security, and pension. My friend told me the strike was inevitable three days ago. “It’s gonna happen no matter what,” were his sage words, “because the MTA has a $1 billion dollar surplus and doesn’t want to treat us with respect.”

In my friend’s mind (and apparently thousands of other TWU workers) “respect” translates to pay, pension, and health benefits; there are not going to be any ways around this. The transit workers have a difficult job, and the city needs them as much as it needs its wonderful firefighters, police officers, sanitation workers, and teachers. How can any agency that has a $1 billion dollar surplus deny its rank and file a little piece of the pie while still threatening to hike transit fares in the near future?

Imagine this scenario: the city of New York is a body, battered but resilient nonetheless. At the very top of this body is Brain (Mayor Bloomberg), and the MTA and all the other administrative offices are the heart. Some may argue that Queens (I am a native of Queens by the way) is the rear end, noting that we have a place called Flushing located there as proof. Nevertheless, all the other boroughs and neighborhoods are jammed within this body, and serving them all is the essential bloodstream (just like our city’s buses and subways).

Brain: Listen, Heart, I want this Blood strike thing to go away.

Heart: Oh yeah, we too.

Brain: We? You are one heart.

Heart: I mean me and the atria and ventricles.

Brain: Oh, yeah, I know how that is; sometimes I have problems with Cerebellum. Anyhow, I want this strike talk to be over.

Heart: Well, sure, we do too, Boss. Besides, the Blood is just plain overrated. We don’t need it that much.

Brain: I could no doubt function without the Blood. I mean, I am Brain and Blood would start missing my brilliance.

Heart: Well, we don’t really care about the Blood down here. If you want us to keep pumping, maybe we can get some sort of substitute attached to our body.

Brain: Hey, I remember that enema we had once. I didn’t like that.

Heart: Yeah, well, Brain, bubby, who you gonna trust? We’ll figure something out. Just don’t listen to Mouth, who is all talk, and Legs is all walk, and the Hands, man, they’re a dirty lot.

Brain: Okay, maybe just stop pumping all together. See how they like that.

Heart: Good idea, Boss.

Brain: And you tell the Blood we won’t budge. No extra thinking power from this gray matter. Next time Body spouts gushers of blood thanks to Hands foolishly slicing Fingers instead of a bagel, I’m not going to direct any damage control.

Heart: Cool.

Brain: See how they like their brethren spilling all over Body’s kitchen counter.

Heart: Right, Boss. No extra pumping from us either. We’re sick of pumping to please the Blood’s rank and file.

(after a few minutes of no communication)

Brain: Hey, Heart, what’s happening?

Heart: Got on the phone and told Blood off. Now the red blood cells, white blood cells, the platelets, and even the friggin’ plasma have voted for an immediate strike.

Brain: Those fools! They’ll see how we don’t need them.

Heart: Yeah, uh…right.

Brain: What’s wrong, Heart?

Heart: We’re feeling a little dry down here. The atria inform me the white blood cells have locked all the valves. Nothing is flowing.

Brain: I’m feeling kind of faint myself. Everything is getting blurry.

Heart: Woe is me, ventricles and atria shutting down. Brain, this is the end for us.

Brain: I can’t think anymore, Heart. Can’t…think…do something!

{a few minutes pass}

Heart: I could barely dial the phone, but I gave in to Blood’s demands.

Brain: Oh, that was close.

Heart: We had no other choice.

Brain: Yes, I guess so. I don’t like seeing the plasma get those pension benefits.

Heart: Well, it’s the only way we can all grow old together.

Brain: Yeah, but those health benefits for the white blood cells…

Heart: We gotta keep ‘em happy, Boss. White blood cells keep the doctor away.

Brain: Hey, I can do math again. I can do math. I am a genius beyond even my own wildest expectations.

Heart: Good. Deduct those things the Blood wants from our surplus and everyone will be happy.

Brain: Fine. Now, I need a nap. It’s not easy being Brain. I have a lot on my mind. You handle the rest. Just keep that damn Blood flowing.

Heart: You got it, Boss. You got it.

This little scenario should highlight the situation for you, Mr. Mayor and Mr. Kalikow (head of the MTA). Come on, guys, it’s Christmas and Chanukah time: the season of miracles. Let’s not continue being Scrooges here. Get working on giving the TWU and its rank and file what they deserve, so the city can get back to living normally and have happy holidays; otherwise, every New Yorker is going to be feeling the pain for a long time to come.

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • RedTard

    i think your friendship may be affecting your clarity on this issue. Do you think that $55K is not enough for a bus driver with no education past high school? Is ther ever a limit to how far government should give in to Union demands?

    Cab drivers make $22K for doing a comparative job in a competitive system. Perhaps that $1 billion would be better spent giving them a break on taxes than upping the salary of the overpaid union employees.

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    Cab drivers make $22K for doing a comparative job in a competitive system. Perhaps that $1 billion would be better spent giving them a break on taxes than upping the salary of the overpaid union employees.

    Taxicabs, believe it or not, are not controlled by the Metro Transit Authority. The MTA’s surplus is only going to be used to cover MTA-specific expenses.

    I couldn’t give a shit either way about the NYC Transit strike, personally, but I can’t imagine a single reason why an agency with a $1 billion surplus in its budget shouldn’t use that surplus to pay its employees more. They’re obviously not using it for anything else, and they’re clearly not going to return it to the people (since they’re talking about another fare hike), so really–why not give it to their workers?

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    The budget surplus, I heard today on the radio news, comes not from an operating surplus but from assets that were sold. Supposedly, the MTA needs those funds for infrastructure purposes. Could be true, could be b.s.

    But the MTA union employees are griping that the MTA wants to raise the full pension retirement age from 55 to 62 (I believe) for new employees only. Honestly, where can you retire with a full pension at 55 anymore these days? The union employees want something the rest of our society doesn’t have, and something that I would argue isn’t very realistic.

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    Thanks for the comments. One thing about the retirement issue was it involved “new hires.” Some workers fear it will go retroactive and affect ALL workers. Yes, 55 is a sweet retirement deal, but the TWU is not the only one to have that.

    I know NYC cops and firefighters who retire much younger than that. That’s the civil service benefit in NYC.