NYC M.T.A. TWU 100 Contract Workers Push for Higher Wages and Better Working Conditions “I feel like every time I go into work I’m going to get another write-up,” she said. “I don’t want to get fired.”

NYC M.T.A. TWU 100 Contract Workers Push for Higher Wages and Better Working Conditions “I feel like every time I go into work I’m going to get another write-up,” she said. “I don’t want to get fired.”

Christian Smith, a contract worker who helps passengers book trips, said it was difficult to survive in New York City on $11 an hour.
CreditAndrew White for The New York Times

Month after month, workers from a call center in Queens arrived at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board meetings in Lower Manhattan to complain about low wages, a hostile work environment and bedbugs in their office.

The workers handle calls for Access-A-Ride, the authority’s transit service for people with disabilities. The North Carolina-based contractor they work for, Global Contact Services, is now the subject of an inquiry by the authority in response to the workers’ persistent complaints.

The inquiry is one front in the employees’ effort to improve what they say are deplorable working conditions. They voted last year to join Transport Workers Union Local 100, and this month, they threatened to strike. Disability advocates say a work stoppage could be disastrous for those who rely on the service.

Many of the workers earn from $9 to $11 an hour, a wage that they say is especially unfair given that they are providing a service for a state-run agency. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced he would raise the minimum wage for state workers to $15.

Christian Smith, 26, who helps passengers book trips, said it was difficult to survive in New York City on $11 an hour.

“It felt like it was a slap in the face,” Mr. Smith said of the governor’s announcement. “I understand we’re contract workers, but the service we provide is state work.”

After the workers brought their concerns to the board in September, the authority’s chairman, Thomas F. Prendergast, said officials would report their findings to board members soon. At the board’s most recent meeting, on Nov. 18, Mr. Prendergast said the review would include pay rates, the circumstances around firings and overall working conditions.

“Time is of the essence,” Mr. Prendergast said. “We heard from the speakers today the conditions under which they’re working and the urgent need they have to resolve these issues.”

One board member, Charles G. Moerdler, criticized Global Contact Services and said he would move to terminate its contract pending the results of the review.

A spokeswoman for the governor, Beth DeFalco, said Mr. Cuomo supported the workers’ moving toward a $15 minimum wage, just as he supports the move for all workers statewide. Mr. Cuomo, who appointed Mr. Prendergast and effectively controls the authority, has said the state’s current minimum wage of $8.75 was not enough for people to live on.

The issue of wages for contract workers of government agencies has also arisen at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where several board members recently signaled support for raising the minimum wagefor jobs at the airports it operates to $15 an hour. The Port Authority raised its minimum wage to $10.10 an hour last year, but contract workers who clean planes at Kennedy International Airport and La Guardia Airport have pushed for $15 an hour.

John Samuelsen, the president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, said he had met twice in recent weeks with Greg Alcorn, the chief executive of Global Contact Services, and was optimistic about reaching an agreement over working conditions and eventually a contract settlement. A strike might be averted, Mr. Samuelsen said, if the conversations continued to be productive.

In response to a call to his lawyer seeking comment about the allegations, Mr. Alcorn left a voice mail message with a reporter saying, “We are meeting more frequently with the TWU Local 100, and we’re having a dialogue and looking forward to making progress.” Mr. Alcorn did not respond to a follow-up call seeking additional comment.

The company has managed call centers for private companies and public organizations since 2001, according to its website. It took over the Queens call center in 2013 from a company called First Transit after Global Contact Services was awarded a five-year, $152 million contract from the authority.

A spokesman for the authority, Adam Lisberg, said the agency had been pleased with the company’s performance “on the metrics we measure, for how quickly they answer calls and how well they serve our paratransit customers.”

Jean Ryan, a leader of Disabled In Action, an advocacy group, said that customer service had drastically improved under Global Contact Services. Ms. Ryan, who regularly uses Access-A-Ride, said workers were polite, friendly and quick to help customers look up addresses. Many of the agents for the previous company were rude, she said, and the wait times for calls were much longer.

“There is no comparison,” Ms. Ryan said. “It’s wonderful.”

The call center agents deserve credit for the accolades, Mr. Samuelsen said.

“It’s a testament to the work force that they are able to deliver the service despite the onerous working conditions,” he said.

The union says that hundreds of workers have been unfairly fired in the last two and a half years. An order issued last week by the National Labor Relations Board consolidating several cases against Global Contact Services said that workers had been punished for supporting the union, and listed the names of 228 people who had been fired between February and October. Workers say the company wanted to keep turnover high so it could replace them with new trainees, who make the lower wage of $9 an hour.

In September, several workers filed a class-action discrimination lawsuit against the authority and Global Contact Services, arguing that employees at the call center were paid low wages because they were largely minority women who had trouble finding other jobs. Two workers filed another class-action lawsuit this month claiming that more than a third of the female agents at the center had been sexually harassed by supervisors.

The alleged bedbug problem was yet another concern. Keisha Browne, 33, is one of the workers who say they have been bitten on the job. This summer, Ms. Browne snapped a photo of one of the insects on a file cabinet to prove that they still roamed the office after the company said it had exterminated.

The job itself is difficult because passengers sometimes call in crying or distressed because their rides have not arrived, said Ms. Browne, who has worked for the contractor since 2013. But the hardest part is the constant fear that she will lose her job. Recently, she said she has started getting in trouble for minor problems.

“I feel like every time I go into work I’m going to get another write-up,” she said. “I don’t want to get fired.”