Privatization runs amok in NYC subway

NEW YORK CITY — Officials of the Transit Chapter of the Civil Service Technical Guild, the union representing the engineers, architects and scientists who work for the city’s transportation authority here, are decrying the anticipated May award of a construction-services contract to a private engineering firm.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority-NYC Transit contract calls for the private firm to do engineering work on the planned Second Avenue subway line, work that the union contends could be done more efficiently by in-house engineers.

It is estimated that some $384 million of the project’s anticipated $3.8 billion budget would be absorbed by this contract. This amounts to approximately $51 million for each year of the seven-year project. Union leaders report that their members could do the same work for only $8 million per year, resulting in a savings of more then $300 million over the life of the project.

In addition to the cost savings, union leaders say, by contracting out, the MTA is denying the in-house workforce the knowledge that it would gain through direct experience in the construction of the new subway line. This knowledge is valuable, since it is the in-house workforce that will eventually be tasked with the long-term maintenance of the system.

According to the union, contracting out will ultimately weaken the transit agency, demoralize the workforce and cheat the public, just to hand a profit to a private contractor, who will have no long term accountability to the MTA or the public after the end of the contract.

The MTA’s past history with outside contractors and vendors has been fraught with difficulties and scandal, and has been characterized by critics as privatization run amok. Contracts with Pullman Standard, Cubic Systems, and Telephonics Corp., and contracts for the renovation of the agency’s headquarters, have resulted either in embarrassing scandals or in legal disputes.

The recently completed headquarters renovation was particularly notorious: beset by enormous cost overruns, corruption scandals and charges of bill padding by organized-crime-connected elements.

The union has called on the MTA to reconsider its decision to contract this work out, and to sit down with the unionized engineering workforce to devise a plan that will be less costly and of greater long-term benefit to the public.

gbono @ cpusa.org