The New York City subway system and its main construction union have become the targets of a national watchdog for allegedly driving up costs unnecessarily.
The New York City Subway has a rich history that dates back more than a century. But increased costs on riders and construction problems have plagued the system for years. The Center for Union Facts (CUF), a national union watchdog, blames a lot of the problems on the unions representing construction workers.
The Subway Scam campaign was launched March 22 by the watchdog to expose allegedly wasteful union contracts with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). The campaign argues that the contracts have increased transit construction costs and have taken needed resources away from subway repairs and upgrades.
“That happens in a variety of ways from padded payrolls to make work jobs,” CUF Communications Director Luka Ladan told InsideSources. “The MTA also creates these union jobs that really have no value including break room supervisors and workers paid to lubricate cranes that are already self-lubricating.”
The Building and Construction Trades Council (BCTC) of Greater New York oversees over a dozen local unions who represent subway workers in construction and maintenance. The Subway Scam campaign specifically names the union and its president Gary LaBarbera for the problems.
“Taxpayer and commuter money is being wasted here because of all these ridiculous costs that have stemmed from break room supervisors, a thousand dollar a day payouts, to unemployed workers, and so forth,” Ladan said. “It’s been there for years but it’s only gotten worse under the leadership of Gary LaBarbera.”
Ladan adds that the union contracts also allow for excessive wages and overtime pay. The Subway Scam campaign is intended to educate the public on what CUF sees as excessive union contracts and wasteful spending – with about half of the campaign’s million dollar budget going to advertising.
“Subway Scam is a public education campaign,” Ladan said. “While many New Yorkers are frustrated with the subway system, we hope to make them aware that labor unions, particularly Gary LaBarbera and his trade unions, are to blame for a lot of the subway’s pitfalls.”
The BCTC of Greater New York responded by questioning the legitimacy of the union watchdog. CUF founder Richard Berman, a former business lobbyist, has started several organizations that have frequently clashed with unions on many policy fronts.
“It has been well-documented that Richard Berman and his so-called Center for Union Facts is a front group for anti-union forces committed to undermining working people across New York City and the nation,” BCTC of Greater New York said in a statement provided to InsideSources. “He is a puppet who is bought and paid for and has zero credibility. This pseudo campaign is replete with lies, half-truths, and a repulsive anti-union, anti-worker agenda. The cowards funding this effort should stop hiding and let New Yorkers know who they are.”
The CUF and construction unions in the city have fought in the past, as well. The Black Workers Matter campaign was launched by the group over allegations that black unionized construction workers are paid less than their white counterparts.
The New York Times helped spark the most recent campaign by uncovering some of the alleged costs in an article Nov. 18. The article states that generous agreements with labor unions and private contractors have hampered efforts to add new lines. It adds the inflated construction costs are five times the international average.
The CUF marked the start of the campaign by launching a website and placing two billboards in Midtown. The group also ran full-page ads in publications like the New York Post and the New York Daily News.