December 19, 2005

New Yorkers brace for transit strike as talks drag

By Joan Gralla and Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Yorkers were counting down on
Monday to a full-scale transit strike as talks between union
and transport authorities dragged on with no sign of a deal to
avert a strike at the height of the holidays.

With the clock ticking for a full walk-out on Tuesday,
negotiators for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)
and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) met on Sunday but both
sides appeared to have settled in to intractable positions.

The New York Times reported the union was asking the
state's Public Employment Relations Board to seek a court order
barring the state-run MTA from making pension demands as part
of its final offer.

The TWU called a partial strike limited to two bus lines
for Monday and threatened to expand it on Tuesday to the subway
and bus systems, which carry some 7 million passengers a day,
if no deal is reached by midnight.

New Yorkers have been preparing for a strike since Friday
when a first deadline expired, and the city has drawn up a
contingency plan including strict car-pooling rules, street
closures and arrangements for taxis to operate on bus routes.

"For the past few days, New York has been a city in limbo,"
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Sunday, urging the union to
come to an agreement and avoid a strike that would be illegal
under labor laws banning public sector workers from striking.

"Nobody wins in a strike, particularly if you have an
illegal strike," he said, urging a continuation of talks.

A key issue in the talks has been pension provisions for
future employees of the 34,000-member union, along with wage
increases and health-care benefits.

The MTA, in what it has called its final offer, would
require new hires to pay part of their pension and raise the
retirement age for new hires to 62 from 55.

After talks concluded late Sunday, MTA spokesman Gary
Dellaverson said, "There is no progress to report. The MTA is
quite concerned about the union imposed deadline. ... There are
additional negotiations tomorrow."

He declined to say how much the proposed pension changes
would save the MTA.


The TWU posted a message on its Web site to customers of
the two bus lines facing a strike on Monday.

"We are all hurting. We know how hard a bus strike will be
for you," the message said. "We would not strike if there was
any alternative, but there is none."

Bloomberg said a shutdown of the subway and bus system
could cost the city's economy up to $400 million a day in lost
income at the height of the Christmas shopping and tourist

"Such an action would be reprehensible," he said in a
Sunday radio address.

"I urge the MTA and the TWU to resolve their contract at
the bargaining table," he said. "While all of us are hoping for
the best, we also need to prepare for the worst. By Monday
night we each have to have our own contingency plan in place."

Some 50,000 people were having to make alternative plans
for Monday's journey to work after the TWU called the strike on
two private bus lines in the borough of Queens.

Bloomberg has laid out plans in case of a broader strike,
including requiring four passengers in a car in midtown
Manhattan during rush hour, reserving certain streets for
emergency traffic and restricting truck deliveries.

An 11-day transit strike in 1980 cost the city more than $1

"The strike would not only inconvenience commuters,"
Bloomberg said. "It would slow down our response to medical
emergencies and criminal activity," he said.

The union has long complained about such issues as
disciplinary procedures toward workers, and members are also
angry the MTA is citing financial hardship at a time when it
has reported a $1 billion surplus.