Work-rule fight derails commuters

Efforts by commuter railroads in the New York City area to cut labor costs resulted in a second major strike Monday. Another 85,000 commuters had to find alternative transportation to their jobs - at twice the cost and traveling time for most of those stranded.

The new strike against Metro-North - operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and serving New York City's northern suburbs and southwestern Connecticut - follows a March 1 walkout against New Jersey Transit. That carrier normally brings about 70,000 commuters into New York City daily. Both strikes involve locals of the United Transportation Union (UTU), which represents conductors and trainmen.

Work rules are at issue in both strikes - NJ Transit management is seeking to change work schedules, and Metro-North wants to reduce the size of train crews. Both railroads are seeking to cut costs by changing rules - or operating patterns - that they say are archaic.

Railroad-union battles over what rail employers call ''featherbedding'' - union rules that require pay for unnecessary work or hours - have been recurring for almost 50 years. On Metro-North, management's demand would eliminate some trained jobs; on NJ Transit, management wants to eliminate pay for unworked hours between morning and afternoon shifts.

UTU spokemen say Metro-North's demands would cut 70 to 75 jobs from a roll of 540. And they say NJ Transit's demands could cost each crewman up to $6,000 a year.

Richard Ravitch, chairman of the MTA, says reductions are needed to hold down labor costs - and commuter fares - as Metro-North seeks to modernize operations. Today, he said, carriers must demand ''eight hours' work for eight hours' pay.''

But public pressure on railroads to settle is likely to be heavy. Even so, concessions from rail workers may come harder than recent concessions made by workers in auto, trucking, and steel industries. The provisions involved were won in bargaining, and trainmen are not likely to give them up - even in the face of protracted walkouts.

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