NYC Steps up Pressure on Transit Workers

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 buses.

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 contract.

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 workers.

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 negotiation."

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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