Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What happens to transit when the U.S. Department of Labor bows to labor unions?

It is nearly a stone-cold fact that the U.S. Department of Labor is currently in full support of the will of special interest labor groups. The agency is spinning federal law in a way that penalizes our local transit agencies without due process just because California wants to--at least--begin to contain the out-of-control pension madness fire.

The federal government clearly has the power both from Congress and the White House to stop this political football game right now which is occurring in the Labor Department. Here's what's at stake: The 1964 Urban Mass Transportation Act gave Labor Secretary Tomas Perez authority to hold federal transit grants as a means to hold transit agencies responsible for respecting their worker's rights to bargain collectively. In this day in age, that clause is questionable; a more sensible approach is to hold those in power directly accountable for respecting the basic rights of workers. If an agency manager unlawfully retaliates a group of employees for organizing or bargaining, fine him or lock him up. Don't subject innocent citizens to public service disruptions.

The Rights of...Job Applicants?

When the labor unions cited the 1964 law and complained to the feds, they relied on the rights of non-hired future employees to back up their claim. Perez' unwillingness to take exception to this notion clearly overreaches the power of his office. Many fair-minded individuals and several newspapers conclude that California's Public Employee Pension Reform Act actually does not wipe out a worker's right to assemble, organize and to bargain collectively. What the law did was close up loopholes to stop unjustified and unfunded hikes to pensions for future workers who apply for the job.

In other words, what the special interests object to--and what Perez is bowing toward--is taking bargaining and benefit rights away from those who are not even on the payrolls of California transit agencies. Since when does a non-employee of a transit agency have the same rights of those on the payroll? This misguided madness is now placing the budgets of our transit agencies in limbo.

Any fair-minded individual knows that a job applicant who has yet to be hired has no business to get directly involved in labor negotiations. It's true members of the public can voice support or objections toward labor unions by writing letters and choosing whether or not to patronize businesses or cross picket lines during a strike. However, since when do outside individuals have a right toward any benefits designated to transit workers? We'd like Perez and President Obama to address that. If this madness continues, we might see this situation end up in federal court with transit agencies spending precious resources preparing for the worst. The public arena must hold the special interests, Perez, and the feds accountable.

No Excuses: Getting real about transit worker labor rights

The labor unions need to look at real solutions to protect the rights of their workers and ways to improve the marketplace economy which in turn increases marketplace wages and benefits. The President needs to order Perez to release the transit funds and take exception to the frivolous objections. Congress needs to explore amending the Urban Mass Transportation Act and close up its loopholes. Heaven forbid, should a transit agency or the state actually abuse its public workers through unsafe working conditions, unjustified labor, paying workers below minimum wage, or preventing them from bargaining collectively, and the labor department and the feds have evidence of such abuse, that would be probable cause to have the feds look into criminal charges against the offending officials with mandatory fines and/or jail time. If a boss unlawfully abuses an employee, fine him or lock him up. Don't obstruct transit operations like a NIMBY. Have the special interests proposed fair legislation like that?

Today, there is absolutely no logical reason to hold federal transit funding--let alone transit riders--hostage in the name of worker's rights. It's time for Congress and President Obama to lead us out of this federal fiscal fiasco.

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