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Reformers want to cut Grand Central bathroom budget

You may remember New York Daily News transit reporter Pete Donohue’s insensitive take on the Grand Central bathroom ruling last year.  Well, the News is at it again.

This time I really believe that they’re trying to do something good: root out the Three Corruptions of waste, fraud and abuse at the MTA.  Most of their findings and implied recommendations are spot-on: the MTA doesn’t need a completely separate administrative hierarchy in every sub-agency, with its own set of lawyers, for instance.  And if, as Aaron Donovan admits, the “housing allowance” for executives is not actually for housing but really just a part of their salary, it shouldn’t be counted separately.  But one thing struck me as bizarre:


There are 21 bathroom attendants at Grand Central making $16,270 to $53,867 a year. Says Metro-North: “700,000 pass through each day, 10,000 meals are sold and they all have to pee.”

This is simply stated by the News reporters in a sidebar without any comment; the implication is that it’s either waste, fraud or abuse.  But come on: Grand Central has at least three sets of bathrooms (although I can’t remember ever seeing more than two sets open at once).  I think the Metro-North response is more than reasonable.  With 700,000 people passing through every day, you’d expect at least, what, 35,000 to use the bathrooms?  There are only 21 people to clean up after them, and given that the terminal is open seven days a week, 20 hours a day, that’s really at most two people working at any given time.  Most of the time, probably only one person.

Is the “waste” in the salaries?  I really, really don’t get all these people who have a particular idea about what certain jobs should pay.  In October we had the Subwayblogger arguing that people scraping gum off the subway platforms shouldn’t make more than $38,000 a year.  Now we’ve got the Daily News who seem to think that people who wipe shit off the floor don’t deserve to make – what? it’s not clear because they just leave it unsaid.  Certainly not $53,867.

In my book, someone who spends their days cleaning bathrooms, and frequently has to wipe up some bum’s diarrhea, or some Scarsdale party girl’s vomit, deserves every penny of that $53,867.  That’s about as much as I made when I was a full-time computer support tech, and a bathroom attendant job is at least as demanding and deserving as the job I had.

This is the same kind of thinking that gets people blabbering about illegal immigrants being required to do “the jobs Americans won’t do.”  As this Slate article succinctly argues, it’s not that Americans won’t do those jobs, it’s that they won’t do them for the small amount of money the employers are offering, at the long hours, oppressive conditions and humiliating environment they demand.  If you pay them decent wages, give them decent hours and safe, pleasant environments where they’re not being insulted all the time, Americans will be happy to mine coal, pick strawberries or mop pee off the floor.  But apparently Subwayblogger and the News reporters think that people who mop pee don’t deserve that.

Let’s say that the Metro-North execs, scared by this News report, cut the Grand Central budget in half.  It would be an absolute disaster.  Unsafe stalls, broken facilities going unreported for hours, messes not getting cleaned up, you name it.  But most importantly – and here’s why this is in my Trans Blog – lower salaries for bathroom attendants.  Lower salaries means higher turnover, which means less experienced attendants.  Anyone who says this is a “semi-skilled” job is talking out their ass.  One important skill for a bathroom attendant is judging who’s a threat and who’s not, and knowing that trans people belong.  If you’ve got high turnover, that means that every couple of weeks you’ve got a new bathroom attendant who’s going to blow the whistle on some trans person in the bathroom.  Just what we need.

I don’t see any waste, fraud or abuse in this aspect of the MTA.  If anything, $16,270 is low for even a part-time bathroom attendant.  Imagine if we quadrupled the budget for Grand Central bathroom attendants.  That means that bathroom attendants will actually be able to support a family in a decent apartment, and will probably stay on the job longer and take pride in their work.  It means less overtime and less stress for the attendants, which means they’ll do their jobs better and probably be nicer to the patrons.  It means that Grand Central will be able to open more than one set of bathrooms at a time, adding to convenience and cutting down on the lines that can sometimes get waaay out of hand.  I’d pay 4% more on my ticket to Irvington for that.