The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Striking Workers Shut Down New York Public Transit

by Brendan Coyne

Risking an array of threatened punitive measures, New York City transit employees made good on their own threat to halt trains and buses until the Transit Authority meets more of their demands.

Dec. 20, 2005 – After last-minute negotiations with transportation officials failed, New York City's transportation workers followed through on their threat to strike this morning, shutting down the subway and bus systems prior to the morning rush hour and forcing millions of riders to find other routes to work and school.

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The job action is the first in 25 years for Local 100 of the Transportation Workers Union and comes about as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) sits on $1 billion surplus. The MTA sought pension and healthcare concessions form workers that union members found unacceptable.

Early Friday morning, union members ignored three separate state-court injunctions against a strike and approved a plan to walk off the job as early as 12:01 this morning. As a prequel, the union, which represents about 34,000 MTA workers, carried out work stoppages against two separate transportation companies over the weekend, taking care to post notices for members and riders to its website.

Negotiations stalled last night over proposed changes to workers’ pension eligibility and a proposed increase in employee healthcare contributions, TWU said in a statement this morning. In addition, the union said, the MTA’s proposed raise structure – added to work-rule changes, safety and maintenance issues, and other contract details – amount to "an insult and a provocation."

Local 100 President Roger Toussaint accused MTA representatives of negotiating in bad faith and appealed directly to New York residents in a statement released around 3 a.m. today.

"To our riders, we ask for your understanding forbearance," Toussaint said. "We stood with you to keep token booths open, to keep conductors on the train and oppose fare hikes. We now ask that you stand with us. We did not want a strike. Evidently the MTA, [the] governor and the Mayor did. We call on all good-will New Yorkers, the Labor Community, and all working people to recognize that our fight is their fight, and to rally in our support with solidarity activities and events. And to show the MTA that TWU does not stand alone."

An average of 7 million people use New York's trains and buses every day; subway-riding billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg estimates that a walkout could cost the city $400 million a day, Reuters reported last night.

Sunday, the union shut down two private Queens bus lines, according to information posted to its website. The New York Times reported that 57,000 people were without bus service due to the action.

New York Courts have issued three separate prohibitions to prevent the union from striking. The orders are based on New York's Taylor Law, which bars essential public employees from striking in exchange for guaranteeing them access to nonpartisan dispute mediation.

Preparing for a possible work stoppage, the MTA posted a general notice to its website and promised that it has contingency plans with commuter railroads that will take at least 24 hours to be implemented. Other city agencies and institutions have also prepared plans for a strike, which can be accessed via the official city website.

Today, Bloomberg called the union's action "morally reprehensible" and said the city was working with the MTA to get an emergency State Supreme Court hearing to levy fines against the union and its members. Under the Taylor Law, striking public workers can be fined double their pay for each day they participate in work stoppage.

"For their own selfish reasons, the TWU has decided that their demands are more important than the law, the City and the people they serve," Bloomberg said. "This is not only an affront to the concept of public service; it is a cowardly attempt by Roger Toussaint and the TWU to bring the City to its knees to create leverage for their own bargaining position. We cannot give the TWU the satisfaction of causing the havoc they desperately seek to create."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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