TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: NYC Steps up Pressure on Transit Workers

NYC Steps up Pressure on Transit Workers

David B. Caruso (
Wed, 21 Dec 2005 12:52:35 -0600

By DAVID B. CARUSO, Associated Press Writer

The city stepped up its pressure on striking transit workers Wednesday
in hopes of forcing them back to work as millions of New Yorkers
trudged to work in another bone-chilling commute without subways and

Michael A. Cardozo, New York City's corporation counsel, said the city
would ask a judge Wednesday to issue a temporary restraining order
directing union members to return to work. If the order is granted,
Cardoza said, the city could ask for the $25,000-a-day fines -- a
punishment that goes beyond the docked-pay penalty that workers
already are experiencing for the illegal strike.

"We're doing everything possible to make the union obey the law," he
said, adding that union members need to "realize the economic conse-
quences of their actions."

According to various estimates by the city and business analysts, the
strike was expected to cost city government and the economy hundreds
of millions of dollars per day.

On Tuesday, a judge fined the Transport Workers Union $1 million for
each day of the strike for violating a state law that bars public
employees from striking. Union lawyer Arthur Schwartz said the fine
could deplete the union's treasury in the matter of days.

In addition, the TWU's 33,000 members already face the loss of two
days pay for every day they are on strike, meaning a prolonged walkout
could quickly eat up any increased pay they would get with a new

Transit officials said about 1,000 transit workers crossed pickets
Tuesday and were put to work cleaning and doing paperwork.

The two sides were scheduled to meet with a mediator again Wednesday.

The White House also spoke out on the strike Wednesday. "It is
unfortunate. We hope that the two sides can resolve their differences
so that the people in New York can get to where they need to go,"
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Crowds of pedestrians, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, bundled up
in heavy coats, hats and mittens against the 24-degree temperature,
and hiked across the Brooklyn Bridge into lower Manhattan on
Wednesday. Volunteers waited with hot chocolate.

Some people had to walk miles. Others shared cabs and car pools,
caught water taxis, biked, skated or hitchhiked.

"A nightmare, disorganized, especially going home," Aleksandra
Radakovic said Wednesday morning in describing her commute.

Bloomberg urged the union to end the strike.

"All the transit workers have to do is listen to their international
(union) that's urged them to go back to work, listen to the judge who
ordered them back to work, and look at their families and their own
economic interests," he said. "They should go back to work. Nobody's
above the law, and everyone should obey the law."

The strike over wages and pensions began Tuesday morning, during the
height of the Christmas shopping and tourist season.

Wednesday's headlines on the city's tabloid newspapers reflected the
attitude of some commuters. "Mad as Hell," proclaimed the Daily
News. "You Rats," the New York Post said of the striking transit

Striker Bill McRae, a bus driver since 1985, said Wednesday he thought
negotiations should have continued -- but he still backed the walkout.

"The union executives called for a strike, and we have to do what we
have to do," McRae said on Manhattan's West Side.

Police reported only two minor incidents related to the strike. A cab
driver was arrested for allegedly assaulting a woman in his cab in an
argument over the fare, causing minor injuries. A police officer was
accidentally bumped by a truck at a traffic checkpoint.

New York retailers, restaurants and bars are expected to bear much of
the brunt of the strike. The week before Christmas historically
accounts for up to 20 percent of many stores' holiday sales, and
consumers who must pay higher taxi fares or face long walks could
reduce their spending.

The union said the latest MTA offer included annual pay raises of 3
percent, 4 percent and 3.5 percent. Pensions were another major
sticking point in the talks, particularly involving new employees.

In its last offer before negotiations broke down, the MTA had proposed
increasing employee contributions to the pension plan from 2 percent
to 6 percent, said union lawyer Walter Meginniss Jr. He added that
such a change would be "impossible" for the union to accept.

"Were it not for the pension piece, we would not be out on strike,"
union president Roger Toussaint said in an interview with NY1. "All it
needs to do is take its pension proposal off the table."

The International TWU, the union's parent, urged the local not to go
on strike. Its president, Michael O'Brien, reiterated Tuesday that the
striking workers were legally obligated to resume working. The only
way to a contract, he said, is "not by strike but continued

The nation's largest mass transit system counts each fare as a rider,
giving it more than 7 million riders each day -- although many
customers take a daily round trip.

Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik and Anne D'Innocenzio
contributed to this report.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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