By Philip Newman
Jay Walder, the new head of the MTA, takes over Monday “with his sleeves rolled up” for a job which by all accounts will be challenging.
Walder, 50, reared in the Rockaways, is replacing the interim chief, Helena Williams, who returns to the presidency of the Long Island Rail Road.
Williams, who talked to reporters after the MTA’s monthly board meeting, said she spoke by telephone with Walder last week in London.
“He said he was eager to start work and that he will arrive with his sleeves rolled up,” Williams said.
Walder is fresh from his service as head of Transit for London, an agency where he gained renown for bringing numerous innovations, including the Oyster no-swipe fare card and a great expansion of the city’s bus system.
As the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board meeting began, perhaps 500 subway and bus workers, members of the Transit Workers Union Local 100, demonstrated outside along a full block of Madison Avenue marching, chanting and shouting, “No contract, no peace” and “Pay up and shut up.”
The workers were protesting the MTA’s attempt to overturn in court an arbitrator’s award granting them a pay raise which the MTA says it cannot afford.
The demonstrators also handed out cards with the likeness of Mayor Michael Bloomberg with the advice “Tell Mike It’s Time to Take a Hike.” The union suspects Bloomberg of siding with transit officials and has accused him of withholding the city’s share of the costs for pupil transportation and Access-A-Ride, a service for the disabled and elderly.
The Transit Workers Union went on strike in December 2005 in a two-day walkout that paralyzed mass transit and cost the city’s economy more than a billion dollars.
The union was fined $1.5 million and punished with the loss of check-off, a system in which the MTA deducts union dues from paychecks. The president of the union, Roger Toussaint, was briefly jailed.
Williams said she still has faith in the arbitration system of settling labor-management disputes and believes the transit workers are responsible employees.
Walder was hired by Gov. David Paterson after the resignation last spring of Elliot Sander, who carried the titles of executive director and chief executive officer of the MTA.The Douglaston resident resigned after Paterson announced he was going to “clean up and clean out” the MTA.
Of the many problems the MTA faces, none is more troubling than money. Interest from borrowing $24 billion over the past few years means sometime next year debt service is expected to consume 25 percent of its financial resources.
The state Legislature last spring approved a payroll tax in the 12 counties serviced by the MTA in a life-saving bailout for the agency.
Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.