Friday, June 4, 2010

M.T.A. Broke Law With Layoffs, Judge Rules by Emily B. Hager - City Room Blog -

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In the latest back-and-forth over the legality of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s layoffs of hundreds of subway station agents, a judge ruled Friday that the authority violated the law when it closed booths and laid off about 260 agents last month without holding public hearings.

But the judge, Saliann Scarpulla of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, did not rule on whether the authority must reopen closed booths or rehire laid-off workers, and the authority itself would not comment on whether it would, saying only that it intended to appeal the ruling and to immediately start the public-hearing process.

The authority plans to lay off more than 200 more station agents in July, as part of the effort to close a budget gap of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Justice Scarpulla ruled Friday that the authority had not followed New York Public Authorities Law 1205, which states that a “complete or partial closing of a passenger station” can occur “only after a public hearing,” provided it is not for emergency reasons or repairs.

The union representing station agents, Transit Workers Union Local 100, called the judge’s decision “a major victory for safety and security in our subways.”

The union and Acorn, a community organizing group, had sued to block the layoffs, arguing that eliminating station agents put the public at risk to acts of crime, terrorism and not having help in place in the case of a medical emergency.

“This a safety issue for us,” said Bertha Lewis, Acorn’s chief executive.

A spokesman for the authority, Aaron Donovan, said in a statement, “The M.T.A. is disappointed in today’s ruling that we cannot proceed with slated subway booth and kiosk closures without repeating the public hearing process.”

Last month, when the authority was about to lay off nearly 500 agents, another State Supreme Court justice issued a last-minute stay blocking the layoffs. A few days afterward, the authority moved ahead and laid off 260 agents who worked in customer-assistance booths rather than sales booths, saying that the customer-assistance agents were not covered by the stay.