Saturday, December 26, 2009

An old post... On SEPTA and unions

I'm sure there are no shortage of commentators on both sides of this SEPTA/Union issue, but I'd nevertheless like to add another one to the list. Quite frankly, I'm finding myself on the side of populist rhetoric and public outrage on this one. I don't tend to side with the public on a lot of large issues, and I guess it's really because I try to break most issues down into a myriad of pieces and evaluate them all. But this SEPTA strike need not be broken down; it is preposterous. It should be ended as soon as possible by any means necessary, and any contract that doesn't prevent this from happening in the future is an outright disgrace to the city of Philadelphia and it's predominately urban inhabitants.

Many of you know that I don't even ride SEPTA and instead take great pride in cycling. So why do I care? Let me count the ways:

1)The already tragic school system of Philadelphia leans heavily on SEPTA to get their ever diminishing numbers of children to and from school. Striking is not merely a slap in the face to the present day under served communities of this city, but it's a slap in the face to this entire city's future.

2) Back in the great strike of 2005 I grumbled that the Regional Rail and LUCY services are among those that are not part of this antiquated union. The consequences of this were as I struggled to make it to Temple on a daily basis, the far wealthier University City students living in and around the area would have no problems. Likewise, while north, south, and southwest Philadelphia were virtually shut down, the only inconvenience to the, again far wealtheir on average, suburbanites was backlogged rides. In hindsight, I looked at this under the view that the regional rail and lucy unions should also be able to strike but that the ruling elite would never allow such blasphemy. Now that I've grown up a bit, I see why these integral transport systems have binding arbitration clauses and am baffled that the currently striking 234 labor union doesn't. The class dichotomy between the branches of SEPTA served by these unions is still there, and strikers are absolutely fooling themselves if they don't think that their actions have a disproportionately negative impact on the lower classes of Philadelphia. Of course, my high minded analysis assumes that the labor union and it's constituents would somehow care. Well, judging from their salaries, I can confidently say that not a single full time employee of SEPTA belongs in the 'lower class' so thinking that they might feel some sense of moral obligation to the communities they serve is wishful thinking at best.

3) I'm not going to judge employees salaries because I'm sure many of these jobs are stressful and employees probably deserve a fair amount of their compensation. That being said, I do have a good friend who works as a mechanic in the city and makes approxiamtely half of what an entry level mechanic working for SEPTA would make. I don't think that his current compensation level is 'fair' based on the talent that I know he has, but such is the efficiency of a competititve market. The fact that public sector jobs with better job security and far better benefit packages can still pay astronomically higher wages is just outrageous. The benefits are where I draw the line. 1% of their health benefits! You've got to be kidding me! This is a complaint! And the pensions, few private employees will remember what a pension is in a few years and the fact that contributing a little more to their pensions is a serious issue in this debate is preposterous. Who gets pensions anymore? And why? This is the same system that is currently bankrupting corporations such as GM as well as constantly dragging down federal and state budgets. Any pension at all should be taken as a blessing, as should cost of living related raises given the state of the economy and the Pennsylvania state budget, upon which SEPTA is a highly inefficient and costly drain.

4) Oh unions, how I hate you so. It would make my life to see Michael Nutter or Ed Rendell go Reagan(whom I despise in virtually all policy decisions except this one) all over them. These are jobs that could be competitively filled for somewhere in the range of 12-15 dollars an hour, 10% mandatory healthcare contributions, and zero pensions. If anything, I'm being far to leanient here in making that statement. This union serves no purpose, except to empower workers who should empower themselves through good service. When most people want a raise, they approach their boss and point to a record of attendance, service, and acheivements and let their merits speak for themselves. Workers without merit have no hope but to join a union. And I'm not being critical of the workers here(at least not all of them), but rather the union that holds them down and keeps them on an unnecessarily even playing field. Everyone is hurt by an unproductive employee, and the ability to sack an employee for clear violations and inadequate performance is integral to the functioning of all profitable businesses. Look no farther than the tragic new york public school system for evidence of how unions force employers into absolutely wasting public dollars (look up the rubber room if you're curious).

5) Can somebody please quantify the amount of co2 emissions that are being added to the atmosphere on account of drastic increases in single occupancy vehicles? We can just lay this bill right on the union door steps, as well as one for all of the lost hours that people have spent sitting unproductively in their cars whilst spewing noxious gases into the atmosphere. They struck in the face of these forseeable and undeniable consequences to public and environmental health for what? An extra 2% raise?

I've tried to be relatively organized in rebuking the union strike but all of these issues over lap that I see in hindsight my numbering scheme is sort of pointless. Nevertheless, the detrimental effects that this strike is having on the public school system and underserved communities are undeniable consequences of this childish game. The unions and their heinous ability to stifle free market competition is clearly the cause. I'm being careful not to defend this city, because I know that SEPTA and Phildelphia have enormous inefficinecies and that corruption accounts for a fair amount of loss that would easily cover the demands of the current strikers. Yet, while I agree that this should be cleaned up, and productivity should be raised I think that the money saved should be either returned to tax payers or pumped into desperately needed infrastructure improvements rather than already bloated salaries.

I'm running out of things to complain about so I'll bid you adieu.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you, I've never really been into unions. As you know, I pretty side with the Democrats on everything except this issue. Maybe it's because when I was young my father was forced to join a union and he complained about it. It does make it harder to fire incompetitient employees.

    I'm always kinda worried that as a plug along in the entertainment industry I'm going to be forced to join a union. The film industry is comprised almost entirely of unions. I'm currently uninsured and I worry that the only way I'm going to be able to get affordable health insurance in NYC is to join a union.