NYC Commuters Coping With Transit Strike
By DESMOND BUTLER, Associated Press Writer
Subways and buses ground to a halt Tuesday morning as transit workers
walked off the job at the height of the holiday shopping and tourist
season, forcing millions of riders to find new ways to get around.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had said the strike would cost the city
as much as $400 million a day, joined the throngs of people crossing
the Brooklyn Bridge as he walked from a Brooklyn emergency
headquarters to City Hall.
"It's a form of terrorism, if you ask me," said Maria Negron, who
walked across the bridge. "I hope they go back to work."
Other New Yorkers car-pooled or rode bicycles in the cold;
early-morning temperatures were in the 20s.
With traffic rules in place to prevent gridlock, the city survived the
morning rush without the feared chaos. Manhattan streets were
unusually quiet; some commuters just stayed home. People who were
going holiday shopping went the best way they could.
Officials said they would seek quick court action, and about eight
hours after the strike began, a closed-door meeting about the walkout
was under way in a Brooklyn courtroom. It is illegal for mass transit
workers to strike in New York, and the 33,000 employees could face
fines of two days' pay for each day on strike.
It was New York's first citywide transit walkout since an 11-day
strike in 1980. Pay raises and pension and health benefits for new
hires were main sticking points.
"I'm not happy about this," said Yvette Vigo, whose teeth were
chattering after she walked a couple of miles to pick up a company-run
shuttle bus at Wall Street. "It's too cold to walk this far."
Authorities began locking turnstiles and shuttering subway entrances
shortly after the Transport Workers Union ordered the strike. 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.
At one subway booth, a handwritten sign read "Strike in
Effect. Station Closed. Happy Holidays!!!!"
Huge lines formed at ticket booths for the commuter railroads that
stayed in operation, and Manhattan-bound traffic backed up at many
bridges and tunnels as police turned away cars with fewer than four
people. All the while, transit workers took to the picket lines with
signs that read: "We Move NY. Respect Us!"
"I think they all should get fired," said Eddie Goncalves, a doorman
trying to get home after his overnight shift. He said he expected to
spend an extra $30 per day in cab and train fares.
Commuters lined up for cabs and gathered in clusters on designated
spots throughout the city for company vans and buses to shuttle them
to their offices.
"There were hundreds of people waiting for cabs, pulling doors left
and right," said taxi driver Angel Aponte, who left his meter off and
charged $10 per person.
"It doesn't seem right to tie up the cultural and investment center of
the world," said Larry Scarinzi, 72, a retired engineer from Whippany,
N.J., waiting for a cab outside Penn Station. "They're breaking the
law. They're tearing the heart out of the nation's economy."
Bloomberg, who had predicted "gridlock that will tie the record for
all gridlocks," put into effect a sweeping emergency plan, including
the requirement that cars coming into Manhattan below 96th Street have
at least four occupants. As he walked across the bridge, he smiled,
admired the view and called the strike "outrageous."
The union called the strike around 3 a.m. after a late round of
negotiations with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority broke down
Monday night. Union President Roger Toussaint said the union board
voted overwhelmingly to call the strike.
"This is a fight over dignity and respect on the job, a concept that
is very alien to the MTA," Toussaint said. "Transit workers are tired
of being underappreciated and disrespected."
MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow called the strike "a slap in the face" to
all New Yorkers, and Gov. George Pataki said the workers were
"recklessly endangering the health and safety of each and every New
The union said the latest MTA offer included annual raises of 3
percent, 4 percent and 3.5 percent; the previous proposal included 3
percent raises each year. MTA workers typically earn from $35,000 as a
starting salary to about $55,000 annually.
Toussaint said the union wanted a better offer from the MTA,
especially when the agency has a $1 billion surplus this year.
"With a $1 billion surplus, this contract between the MTA and the
Transport Workers Union should have been a no-brainer," Toussaint
said. "Sadly, that has not been the case."
A key issue was the MTA's proposal to raise the age at which new
employees become eligible for a full pension from 55 to 62, which the
union says is unfair. The MTA later agreed to allow pension
eligibility at 55 for new employees, but they would be asked to pay
more out of their salaries.
The contract expired Friday at midnight, but the two sides agreed to
keep talking through the weekend and the union set a new deadline for
Tuesday. The citywide strike was preceded by a walkout Monday by two
private bus lines in Queens.
Commuter frustration was evident both before the strike and after it
"Enough is enough," said Craig DeRosa, who relies on the subway to get
to work. "Their benefits are as rich as you see anywhere in this
country and they are still complaining. I don't get it."
Associated Press writers David B. Caruso, Verena Dobnik, Samantha Gross and
Sara Kugler contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Metropolitan Transportation Authority: http://www.mta.info/
Transport Workers Union: http://www.twulocal100.org
City contingency plans: http://www.nyc.gov/html/transitinfo/html/home.shtml
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: This strike is only against the law in
NYC because the city of New York passed a law claiming it was
'wrong'. I suggest that the city is condoning indentured slavery. No
one can be _forced_ to work at a job they do not want to work at. If
the city feels public transportation is so important, the way to
demonstate that is by treating the employees who are doing that work
in a respectful way, not by being even more oppressive with laws which
require your work and fine or imprison you for failing to work, as is
the case in Bloomberg's administation.
I recall when several years ago, the staff at Cook County Hospital in
Chicago went on strike after Cook County tried to change their working
conditions in an unfair way. A judge (get this! yuk yuk!) ordered them
to go back to work or get fined, etc. Their representative told the
court, "we will not accept any punishment from this court! I will
simply suggest to all employees that they resign their jobs effective
immediatly. Then you won't have any healthcare workers at all and see
where that gets you!" The judge replied, "you will all be in contempt
in that case." The judge was told "slavery in the United States was
long ago abolished. You cannot _force_ people to go to certain jobs."
The judge agreed that was the case (slavery no longer allowed) and
that the county would have to replace all the employees (if that was
at all practical or possible). The worker's representative said "you
can do that, alright, but eventually this strike will end and all our
workers will have to 'reapply' for new jobs, and of course in your
desire to get hospital functions up and running again, whom do you
suppose would be the ones to get hired?"
I think Mayor Bloomberg (and he is not _my_ mayor, I do not live there)
made a fatal mistake by going to court Tuesday morning to force
workers back on the job with threats of fines and jail. He has caused
so much ill-will things will never get back to normal, if they ever