An advocacy group for subway riders is blaming budget reductions for dirtier conditions on New York subway cars.

“It’s as clear as the grime on a subway car floor: MTA Transit cuts in cleaners has meant dirtier cars,” said Gene Russianoff, campaign attorney for the Straphangers Campaign. “And more cuts to come means more dirt for subway riders.”

This might be a good time to pay a little closer attention to what it costs to compensate those cleaners whose numbers the MTA is cutting.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) employed 3,451 city transit workers with the title “cleaner” in their title in 2009, according to payroll data posted recently at SeeThroughNY.  Within that group, 2,140 had the title “Cleaner (Transit-Labor Class),” which would include subway car cleaners.   Their average wage: $42,630 a year, and $21.36 an hour.

According to the state Labor Department occupational wage data for New York City, the average wage for all “Cleaners of Equipment and Vehicles” in the transportation sector was $34,780 as of the second quarter of 2009.  The average wage for all employees in “Buildings and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Operations” was $31,550.  In other words, transit cleaners enjoyed a 23 percent wage premium over similar workers in the transportation sector, and 35 percent over analogous workers assigned to clean buildings and grounds.  And that doesn’t count the cost of health and pension benefits for transit workers, which tend to be much more generous and expensive than the average in the private sector.

As the result of an arbitration process set in motion at Governor Paterson’s direction in late 2008, transit workers received a pair of 4 percent raises in the last two years, even though the MTA could not afford it and had not budgeted for it.  If you already face a large budget gap and are forced to give your employees a significant pay hike in a deep and dis-inflationary recession, something’s got to give.  Since somebody needs to drive the train, you can’t cut engineers.  That leaves you to look in the direction of your (expensive) cleaners.  And so subway cars will now be dirtier.

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About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

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