Deposed Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief Elliot Sander has an op-ed in today’s Times in which he notes that “with the Legislature’s political support for labor negotiations, the agency would be better positioned to conduct serious and respectful conversations with its … unions about modernizing work rules to increase productivity and embrace new operating technologies.”

This point is a excellent start — and only a start. Sander’s acknowledgment that the MTA must move its labor force into the modern age is important. With support from politicians and creative management, the MTA could save tens of millions — and likely more — on the cost of maintaining tracks and providing in-station customer service. 

But Sander didn’t use his unique position to address the MTA’s other labor elephant in the room: pensions, which will top out at more than $1 billion annually by the end of the MTA’s three-year financial plan.

Even this estimate is likely low, because it could lowball the level of contributions the MTA will have to make to surmount recent market losses in its pension funds. The MTA, under state law, guarantees workers a certain level of benefits no matter how markets do.

The bond analysts at Moody’s recently cited “growth in uncontrollable expenses such as pension fund contributions to offset investment losses” as a factor that’s weighing on the authority’s credit. 

In the future, Sander could advance the discussion further by making a direct connection between uncontrollably rising pension costs, absent common-sense reform, and the expected chronic shortfall in the MTA’s capital-spending budget. 

A dollar spent on pensions is a dollar not spent on, say, modern signaling.  

And he could connect pension reform to his well-taken point, in the piece, that state politicians must take the lead in reforming labor costs. 

The transit world is already slowly moving toward a reasonable discussion on how outdated labor costs are affecting tomorrow’s infrastructure — and a push here from someone who knows would be tremendously helpful. 

Relatedly, E.J. has an op-ed in the Post today about how market losses of 26 percent last year in the state pension-fund system will affect other levels of state and local government.

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