Revolutionary Transit Worker

December 9, 2017

“Team Cuomo’s”
Customer Service Ambassador Debacle

A Bad Deal that Was Going to Be Much Worse
until Militant Resistance Forced Utano & Management to Retreat

Local 100’s new President Tony Utano and Stations Vice President Derick Echevarria and their allies describe their deal to create the new Customer Service Ambassador (CSA) title as something close to a miracle: the creation of hundreds of new and better-paying jobs for Station Agents (SAs), along with a guarantee that subway booths stay open – with no givebacks or downsides to mention!

If that were true, you’d expect SAs to be rushing to become CSAs. But when management released their first bid for the new jobs almost half the SAs who received the offer chose not to accept the positions – despite the jobs paying $1.34 more an hour! That’s because what Utano & Co. are saying about the CSA deal is one thing, and what the actual agreement says in another – not to mention the fact that plenty of Local 100 members have already learned not to trust what their officials tell them.

The truth is that Utano & Co.’s CSA agreement features givebacks of hard-won working conditions that make it a bad deal both for SAs who take the jobs as well as for those who stay in their booths, leaving them more open to exploitation and abuse by management. It will help management prepare to close booths and cut jobs in the future. And it points to further attacks on all Local 100 members jobs and working conditions.

We break down the details of the agreement below, but for anyone who hasn’t seen the deal, we’ve posted a copy on our website here: PDF. [Information about PDF’s]

The CSA Deal: A Warning of Coming Attacks on All Local 100 Members

The first point made in the CSA agreement is that it was prompted by Governor Cuomo’s declaration of a transit “state of emergency” at the end of June, and this is important to understand.

Cuomo’s “state of emergency” was nothing but a fraudulent publicity stunt meant to hide his share of responsibility for the crisis in transit service. He pledged a billion dollars in additional state funding to improve the system, but just months earlier he had finished cutting the MTA’s annual budget for subways by as much as one-and-a-half to two-billion dollars! And Cuomo’s promise of new state funding was a lie: his offer specified in fine-print that it would only be provided if the MTA exhausted other sources of revenue, and he knew that wouldn’t happen because he had already set in motion a plan for the authority to fund its capital projects by going deeper into debt to Wall Street.

The MTA already spends almost 20% of its budget on paying interest on its existing debts. That figure is expected to sharply rise, and with no improvements in subway service expected any time soon, Cuomo and MTA management adopted a plan to dramatically cut labor costs while implementing cosmetic changes – in the hope of fooling the public into thinking things were changing for the better.

The creation of the CSA title is the first such cosmetic change. By getting SAs out of their booths and onto platforms, they plan to have them act as crisis managers on dangerously over-crowded platforms, and to serve as brightly-uniformed “ambassadors” at whom riders can vent their anger at the system’s failures! (And that’s one reason why so many SAs chose to pass on management’s offers to become CSAs.)

Another closely related cost-cutting measure that management has already moved forward with is their plan to cut all subway cleaners’ night shifts, starting with nine stations on the R line in Brooklyn. (The union has filed a grievance against this attack. But it is clear that Utano & Co. originally planned to accept this cutback: they only filed their grievance in early October, 5 months after the MTA first announced their plan, after pressure from angry cleaners gave them no choice!)

The creation of the CSA title was supposed to be the biggest cost-cutting attack on transit workers, as well as a cosmetic change to the system. It was originally planned by management, and tentatively accepted by Utano & Co., to be a far worse cost-cutting and broad-banding onslaught against SAs, Platform Conductors, and Cleaners than the terms they finally agreed to. However, rising protests against the deal from within Stations Department as well as Rapid Transit Operations (RTO) forced them to withdraw some of the worst aspects of their plan.

Before we examine the aspects of the plan that Utano and management abandoned, however, we should first explain the terms of the agreement that they did sign.

The Facts of the CSA Deal

Despite Utano & Co.’s claims that their CSA deal contained nothing but improvements for transit workers, the truth is that it contains important givebacks on SAs’ working conditions that give them good reason to be turning down the job in such large numbers. And Utano & Co.’s claims that the deal protects SAs’ jobs and booths is an outright lie.

1. Givebacks

The givebacks contained in the CSA deal are obvious.

2. False Promises

Furthermore, while Utano & Co. are claiming that their CSA deal means that booths will stay occupied and open, in reality the deal does not contain any such guarantees. While the agreement promises that the headcount of SAs will remain the same from beginning to end, that seems to be vague language taking advantage of the fact that this is a one-year pilot program at the conclusion of which CSAs will automatically be considered SAs again.

Moreover, the agreement contains no language specifying that new SAs will be hired before hundreds are sent from their booths to work on platforms and mezzanines.

Therefore, it seems far more likely that the deal will be used by management to empty booths as preparation for declaring them unnecessary and announcing their closing.

What “Team Cuomo” Originally Planned

As we have mentioned, the final deal to create the CSA title is very different from the one that Utano and management had tentatively agreed on six weeks earlier in backroom negotiations which had been kept secret not only from Local 100 members, but even from some elected officials in Stations and RTO Departments. It’s even significantly different from the revised terms that we know they had brokered just two weeks before.

Originally, the titles of Platform Conductors and Station Agents were to be merged into the new CSA title, with workers in the new position being expected to do anything and everything from safety-sensitive Platform Conducting to the cleaning of stations.

Management was so confident that Utano & Co. would force this deal on the members that they didn’t even wait for a formal agreement before sending Platform Controllers along with Station Agents to training sessions for the new job. They even began ordering SAs out of their booths and onto platforms to perform the work of Platform Conductors. But resistance to their moves foiled their plan.

When Cleaners’ shop steward Anthony Staley became aware of SAs being directed to work as Platform Conductors without the required training or even the required Personal Protective Equipment required by the TA’s own work rules, he challenged management decisively. Demanding Safety Dispute Resolution Forms, he succeeded in getting the SAs returned to their booths. Station Agents’ Section Chair John Mooney successfully took similar action elsewhere. And the cover was completely blown off Utano & Co.’s dirty deal when RTO Vice President Kia Phua sent an e-mail to Rapid Train Operations (RTO) members exposing it, after which both management and the union abandoned hopes of using Platform Conductors in the Ambassador program.

Further protests against the deal forced Utano and management to retreat even further. When Stations chair and Executive Board member Joe Bermudez attempted to avoid discussing the issue at all at a Stations meeting, angry members refused to allow him to get away with it. Their pressure forced Bermudez to admit that he was under orders from Utano not to share copies of the tentative deal, but he conceded to quickly read aloud its contents. Those terms still contained clauses that would have allowed management to order CSAs to perform the work of Platform Conductors as well as that of Cleaners under the vague requirement to “perform other necessary functions to enhance the customer experience.” But as a result of members’ protests, these and other noxious terms were ultimately dropped from the final deal.

Protests Forced Utano & Co. to Retreat – but the Danger of More Betrayals Continues

Angry opposition from within the Stations and RTO Departments delayed the final agreement by weeks and ultimately forced management and Utano & Co. to abandon the worst features of their tentative deal. This shows that until we can replace our treacherous union officials with leaders who really represent our interests, resistance to their collaboration with management can still win victories.

The danger of Utano & Co. forcing other setbacks on us remains, however. Utano is seeking to strengthen his control of RTO Division by removing V.P. Phua from office with charges that he invited a news reporter into a union meeting. This is a transparently hypocritical allegation since Utano was secretly negotiating with management for weeks and leaking information about the CSA deal to the media before he informed the members of his negotiations. Utano clearly intends to replace Phua with an ally he can trust to join in his conspiracies with management against the members. Utano’s attack on Phua is obviously an attack on all of RTO. This has become even clearer since Utano moved to cut two union release positions from RTO, including sending T/O Vice-Chair Danny Hay back to his tools. RTO has long been starved of release positions, and this vicious move by Utano will make that situation much worse.

Members will need to remain on the watch for any new attempts by management at contract-violating broad-banding, as well as new moves by Utano & Co. on behalf of management to force on us new cost-cutting measures.