With a projected completed roll out of the MTA’s new contactless fare payment system — OMNY by 2023 and the MTA’s 2019-2022 Financial Plan calling for booth reductions throughout the system; grim, bleak and uncertain are the words describing the sentiment many of the rank and file members within the Department of Subways – Stations Department are feeling about their future.

On October 23rd, 2017, the MTA Board’s Finance Committee awarded Cubic Transportation Systems, Inc. a $573 million contract to provide the MTA with a new state-of-the-art fare payment system. The new fare payment system known as – OMNY, is set to replace the Metrocard and provide riders with the ability to pay using; a mobile app, a digital wallet (i.e. Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay), a debit/credit card or an MTA issued contactless card. Cubic Transportation Systems, Inc. is also tasked with creating a software that will provide riders with 24/7 self-service access to manage their accounts and purchase or reload fare media. 

With the implementation of this new fare payment system, the technology and automation associated with it poses a grave risk to job counts within the Stations Department. Within the past couple of years we have seen the Wayfinder program expand. Although Station Agents are afforded the opportunity to bid on Wayfinder jobs and are paid a $1.00/hr differential over a Conductor’s wage rate, unless all job counts are preserved long-term, a reduction in the workforce is iminent.

The question now arises — What can be done to ensure that new fare payment technology does not eliminate our work?

A good starting point would require Union leadership to take an offensive approach and exercise the rights afforded to us under the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964, commonly referred to as the, “Federal Transit Act”. The most relevant to us as transit workers is, Section 13(c) of the Federal Transit Act. Under Section 13(c), an employer who receives federal mass transit funds must protect all covered mass transit employees affected by the use of the federal money. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) must approve the arrangements made to protect these employees, if not approved, federal funding is denied.

How and why are Section 13(c) Transit Labor Protections relevant to OMNY and booth closures?

In 1963, during Congressional hearings the TWU and ATU voiced concerns about the potential loss of transit employment that would accompany projects paid for or supported by federal funds. During their testimony they persuaded lawmakers that federal funding would promote technological advances or automation that would lessen the need for transit labor. 

But, how does this tie into OMNY? In the 2017 contract award to Cubic Transportation Systems, Inc. the MTA Board indicated that the $573 million would be funded from both the Operating ($92.7 million) and Capital ($480.8 million) budgets. Funding for the Capital budget was provided from the 2010-2014 and 2015-2019 Capital Program, both of which were made up with approximately 22% of federal assistance. Section 13(c) of the Federal Transit Act prohibits the use of federal assistance to worsen an employees position.

To see how a Union has exercised their rights under Section 13(c) we head out to the west coast. Although ultimately overturned, in 2012, ATU Locals 1225 and 256 exercised their Section 13(c) rights when they petitioned the Department of Labor to deny federal funding to San Francisco  Bay Area Rapid Transit and Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority when state legislation implemented unilateral changes to their pension benefits despite what was in their contract. In 2013, the Department of Labor agreed and denied federal assistance due to the changes violating the employees preservation of benefits.

In closing, under Section 13(c) of the Federal Transit Act, the MTA must give the Union 60 days notice if in fact OMNY results in a reduction of job counts or other adverse effects. If notice is given, the two parties must meet and agree on an implementation agreement. Nonetheless, a viable option that Union leadership may exercise and should be left on the table is to file an objection with the Department of Labor to deny federal funding when the MTA seeks to obtain recertification if a favorable protection agreement isn’t reached.