They were loud, they were numerous and they told commuters and passersby they haven’t had a new contract in close to a decade.
Several hundred off-duty PATH workers from eight unions that haven’t reached an agreement with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey held a demonstration Thursday afternoon at the Grove Street station in Jersey City to tell riders about what they say has been a struggle.
Demonstrators held signs, blew whistles, handed out leaflets to commuters and let out impromptu cheers when a passing driver honked the horn in support.
Behind the protest is the little-to-no progress union officials say has been made in contract talks since last summer. Union leaders told the Port Authority board last summer they want a contract in line with what other railroad unions receive in the New Jersey-New York region.
“Nothing has changed since the summer” when union officials appealed to the board to settle with the unions representing 800 PATH workers, said Joseph Dominiczak, a spokesman for the coalition of PATH unions and a union official.
“We’ve gone almost a decade without raises. Meanwhile they’ve given management very generous wage increases,” he said. “There have been bargaining sessions with no progress.”
“They’re getting the same check as almost 10 years ago,” said Arthur Davidson, general chairman, system council #7 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
The effect on employees and their families can be measured by “the number of demonstrators,” he said.
Also at issue are pension funding and increasing health care costs for workers.
Port Authority officials said in July they settled with most of the agency’s 23 unions that didn’t have contracts two years ago, and that the PATH unions are the last ones to reach an agreement with.
“Eighteen months ago, every one of the Port Authority’s more than 5,000 unionized employees was working under an expired labor contract,” Port Authority officials said in a statement. “Today, more than 90% of the agency’s unionized workers are covered by brand new collective bargaining agreements.”
Those agreement cover some PATH workers, police officers, toll collectors, electricians, and many others, official said.
“We are making steady progress at the bargaining table to settle the remaining open contracts, and that is where we will continue to focus our efforts,” officials said.
Because PATH serves two states, it is considered a railroad and employees are covered by the federal Railway Labor Act, which allows employees to strike after all avenues have been exhausted. The last PATH strike was a 12-week job action from June to August 1981.
The union coalition has been in mediation, but negotiations have broken down. The unions want the National Mediation Board to proceed to the next step — to release them from mediation and form a Presidential Emergency Board to weigh both sides arguments and make recommendations.
Under the Railway Labor Act, the federal Mediation Board can ask President Donald Trump to appoint up to two Presidential Emergency Boards to hear the arguments from the unions and management. That board’s report and recommendations could be the basis for an agreement. If both sides can’t reach an agreement, the unions could strike or management could lock them out, after a 90-day cooling-off period.
“We assert we are at an impasse,” Davidson said, adding the Port Authority representatives walked out of negotiations last year.
“It took the carrier seven years to put a wage offer on the table, that’s an unreasonable length of time. … In five and a half years, we’ve made no progress.”