Friday, January 19, 2007

Today's Boston Metro, Page 1: Cutting Costs 101: Squeezing Employees

Boston Metro, Friday, January 19, 2007 - the headline reads ""Report: T must cut costs."

For the second day in a row, the MBTA has made the front-page headline and story of the Boston Metro. Yesterday's topic, in case you didn't read the article or my rant, was on how the T is going to aggressively fine fare beaters at its newfangled magic gates... and then suspend, via the RMV, their licenses if they don't pay--yes, their licenses. Today's is no much less of a riot: the State Transportation Finance Commission, equally as adept as the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Board, at the conclusion of its "finding" about how the MBTa is supposed to hack way at its mysteriously high debt, is proposing that the Authority play "airline" and significantly lower its employees' retirement benefits. The the debt, if I may remind you, is approximately $5 billion, but reported as high as $8 billion depending on which level of TI calculator is being used at the time; I prefer the 89 myself.

Spearheading this "finding" by the Commission is the President of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, Michael Widmer. The article basically tries to paint Widmer as a compassionate guy who's simply looking out for the best interest of us, the taxpayers of the People's Republic of Massachusetts, a-k-a "The Commonwealth," and trying to come to a rational solution about how the T should eliminate some of its debt. What he's really saying by this "finding" is a big $^&# YOU! to the MBTA as far as helping to "take over a proposed $2.9 billion of the debt in order to get the authority back on stable footing."

Because God forbid the T's most loyal employees who stick around for decades get full health benefits when they retire. I mean, I'll be honest, operating and conducting trains and/or buses isn't as skilled a job as flying a plane, nor does it pay as much. So is Widmer's line of thinking that because airlines can go after their pilots' and flight attendants' retirement benefits, the T can do the same? If so, he only left out one part--good for business, bad for everyone else--and it has backfired for the airlines in the form of strikes and work stoppages. Welcome to Cutting Costs 101: squeeze your employees. Who cares about morale or reciprocation of company loyalty? It's all customers, dammit--in this case riders and taxpayers--we're the ones getting squeezed--not!

Because if you, as a rider, or a taxpayer, or both, feel that way, do the homework. Almost nowhere in the whatever-so-many-billions-of-dollars-of-debt that the T has mysteriously amassed, an amount greater than Amtrak's I might add, is the reason because of retirement benefits. While the T certainly has made fiscally irresponsible decisions within its last decade, giving all it can to its marginally disgruntled, but overall hard-working and well-meaning employees isn't one of them. And that is why I don't think its remotely fair to even think of going after that; and as the article mentions, the brighter-than-we-give-him-credit for MBTA GM Dan Grabauskas seems to think so too, at least questioning how much of a difference its really going to make.

Nobody wants MBTA fares to go up another cent; or to feel that their taxpayer dollars are just shoveling #$@% against the tide as far as paying down the MBTA's debt. But just the same, if anything, the state owes the MBTA money in terms of numerous projects that, although delayed or failed, have somehow added to the T's debt. Let's not think hastily and go after the little person.



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