Friday, September 03, 2010

Three Card Sunny

In this week's Herald Independent, our very own Sunny goes on about the RTA again. (Note that in these environs, Ms. S. is a big enough cheese to go by one name, like one of the those Brazilian futbal players.) I swear the anti-train people are as obsessed with trains as any foamer I ever met. To me, trains are just another way to move products and people.

Her column yesterday, left a number of questions in my mind. It reminded me of a game of three card monty wherein the goal of the purveyor is to distract (and then fleece) the sap who stops to watch.

Unless you take her suppositions, inferences, and arguments on faith (not advised), I guess her dear readers have to chase down each loose strand. Lucky for you, I'm taking a furlough today. [BEGIN ADDENDUM] I am adding this note to emphasize that Sunny is correct (pass the smelling salts for Sunny, please) on one point: If the RTA takes Metro's operations they will have to honor Metro's labor contracts per the state law (quoted below) that created the possibility of the RTA.   

Sunny doesn't like Madison Metro's overtime costs. She claims that Paul Soglin explained to her how the drivers cooperate with each other to get more overtime by manipulating the sick leave system. She claims the RTA will be stuck with Metro's labor contract if RTA takes over bus service within the region. She claims, as does alder Veserat, that the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) is a federal law that prevents employers from negating labor contracts (collective bargaining agreements) even if they make a dramatic change in their "business plan".

[Actually, I've only ever heard Mike ask, "But what about the FLSA!". The first time I heard this exclamation, I thought maybe he meant the FMLN, which was rather concerning if it meant that Salvadoran rebels had seized control of Madison Metro. He says it sort of like it's a rhetorical question and the listener should know what he means. Some discomfort follows.]

But, the FLSA is a federal wage and hour law that sets the minimum wage, requires overtime pay for some workers, and the like. It doesn't have anything to do with collective bargaining agreements. That would be the NLRA (National Labor Relations Act). My recollection is that employers actually can void labor contracts in some circumstances, not that I advocate such a course.

But, now I'm still thinking maybe Mike really means the FMLA (Family And Medical Leave Act). Here's Wisconsin's version.

STATE LAW: When I inquired this morning, Sunny sent me the section from the statute that created the RTA. It explicitly states that the RTA "shall assume all of the employer's obligations under any contract between the employees and management of the system to the extent allowed by law". Sec. 66.1039 (6) (a).

Sheesh, if she'd said that in The View, I could have read a book or something....

But, but, but....this report to the Madison City Council provides some interesting data. Madison Metro has successfully reduced overtime per driver by about 50% since 1998. And at mid-year, total OT hours had dropped 20% from 2009 to 2010. Metro and Mayor Cieslewicz recognize the problems and are attempting to resolve them. Also, the collective bargaining agreement expired January 1, 2010 and negotiations for a new one are ongoing.

So, we finally arrive at the proposed referendum before the Monona council. The proposed referendum does not ask whether the voters think commuter rail is a good idea, as former alder Dale Suslick's letter to the editor states.

Put in those terms, the proposed referendum really asks whether commuter rail is the only idea. The RTA can raise the sales tax by a maximum of a half-cent. The referendum asks if we want to spend all of it on a commuter train.

Here's the actual proposed question:
“Shall commuter rail from the City of Middleton to the Town of Burke be funded by a half-cent (0.5%) increase in the sales tax?"
If you wanted to know whether voters want commuter rail, you could just ask them that exact question:
Do you want commuter rail?
Or you could ask, Should the RTA spend any money on commuter rail?
Or, Should the RTA spend part of the sales tax on trains and part on buses?
Or, Should the RTA spend part of the sales tax on trains and part on buses and part on park and ride lots and part on bike paths?

Of course, it is hard to decide what the right question is, let alone the right answer, before the RTA produces its transit plan.

So, another real question is why do the political leaders who are pushing this referendum want to have a referendum before it is ready for decision?

If we had such a half-baked question brought before the council on any run-of-the-mill, non-political item, it would be tossed back to committee for further development.


Final question: Sunny's a big cheese, but what kind of cheese?


  1. Doug,

    Thanks for looking into this. I've also been doing some digging on the Fair Labor Standards Act, and from what I can tell, the FLSA only applies to employer-employee relationships. The RTA isn't going to be an employer, per se, but rather a funding mechanism and a consortium regulator. Furthermore, the FLSA is only applicable to enterprises dealing with interstate commerce and the production of goods. As far as I know, the RTA won't be carrying people across state lines and certainly won't be manufacturing anything. I've got a call into a couple of labor attorneys to see if I can get further clarification on this matter.

    I've got to believe that with all governmental fingers that are in the RTA pie, someone would have piped up by now if the FLSA was going to be such a problem. I'm fairly certain that Madison doesn't want another, larger version of their bus-driver-overtime-pay fiasco.


  2. This all leads to my suggestion the leadership of the Monona Transit Authority should engage in meaningful discussion with the members of the RTA to ensure that our needs and wanted are included in their planning efforts. What about the RTA continuing with the existing Monona bus contracts but enhancing the hours, locations and making the fare be transferable to any other operating bus company? Facts are much more powerful than fear - thanks Doug for using your furlough time to further address the issue and thanks to Alder Munson for his efforts in support of Monona transit!

  3. Sunny is not known for exhaustive research or any research really for that matter. As long as it fits in the right wing mean.

  4. Sunny sez...
    I think I'm an aged cheddar: Useful, versatile, and sometimes sharp enough to make your eyes water... Don't anyone say Limburger, please!

  5. Sunny, that's funny. If anyone does say Limburger, just bear in mind what a friend of mine has said on that cheese: The stronger it smells, the better it tastes....

    Well, maybe that's not much help either. I'd think limburger would be better than 'goat cheese'.