Op-Ed: Bad for Workers. Bad for New York.

Hope Gilmore
E-ZPass Worker
CWA Local 1102 Member

Working class New Yorkers have been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The city unemployment rate now hovers around 20%, skyrocketing from less than 4% before the pandemic hit. As is the case nationally, Black and Brown New Yorkers have suffered the worst health and economic impacts of the virus.  

During such economically challenging times, we should be doing everything possible to preserve jobs, which is why it is so outrageous that my position, along with those of nearly 300 majority Black and Brown workers at the Staten Island E-ZPass call center, are potentially at risk. 

The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is soliciting bids for a new contract to handle call center support work for E-ZPass customers, but has failed to require job protections for my coworkers and I. 

We are calling for the MTA to guarantee our jobs will be retained by the next company to win the contract. It is simply absurd that we are being treated as expendable, potentially being tossed on the unemployment rolls in the middle of a pandemic that will make it next to impossible to find another job.

If we are laid off, the first issue we will face is simply trying to find new work. Openings are scarce, and it will be extremely difficult for me to replicate the benefits and steady wages I earn in this unionized position. I have a son just over one-year old that I need to provide for, and if I am unable to find work, I will be forced to go on unemployment--which mind you, can take weeks or months to obtain. In addition, with the enhanced federal benefits potentially ending permanently, I’ll be in an extremely financial precarious situation. I am not sure how I will be able to provide the food, clothes and diapers that I need for my son. 

Furthermore, thanks to protections negotiated by my union, The Communications Workers of America, I have been able to work from home throughout this pandemic. I am terrified of my son contracting Covid-19, and cannot envision myself actually going back into an office until there is a vaccine, which would severely limit my job options. 

These are decisions that we should not be forced to make--risking the health of our family and children by going to work, or losing our salary and just barely getting by. This bidding process is bound to put either our financial security or health and safety at risk if worker retention language isn't included. 

Oftentimes, provisions that require companies to retain the already existing staff are included in RFPs and other publicly funded contracts. In fact, many cities and states have laws that require such worker retention when government service contracts change hands. We demand these protections in this contracting process so we can protect our livelihoods. 

Not only is this no way to treat a loyal workforce that has been on the job for years, it is also bad for New York State. Requiring the retention of our jobs would  ensure that the winner of the  new contract could immediately rely on a trained workforce experienced in the issues and best practices that would guarantee high quality service for New Yorkers. This is a commonsense practice for government contracting that benefits everyone. 

Throughout U.S history, Black and Brown workers have always borne a disproportionate burden during times of economic crisis. They are the first fired and the last to be rehired. This does not have to be the case here. This is an opportunity for government and elected officials to stand up for workers and protect jobs that have provided economic stability. The MTA should not be allowed to make us expendable through no fault of our own.