New York transit workers put off strike, but another deadline looms
NEW YORK – The city’s bus and subway workers Friday put off a potentially crippling strike until at least next week, leaving a cloud of uncertainty hanging over New York at the height of the Christmas rush.Negotiators for the 33,000-member Transit Workers Union and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority failed to agree on a new contract when the old one expired at midnight Thursday, but the trains and buses kept running, and the union set a new deadline of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.Many New Yorkers did not know until they awoke Friday whether they would be able to ride the buses and subways, which carry nearly 7 million passengers a day. Commuters were relieved, but the uncertainly of the down-to-the-wire negotiations left some exhausted.”I didn’t sleep too well last night,” said Mary Marino, who takes two subways to her nursing job. “I kept turning on the TV to see if they had settled.”The last bus and subway strike in New York was an 11-day walkout in 1980 that paralyzed the nation’s largest mass transit system.The new deadline raises the possibility of a strike in the middle of the last shopping week before Christmas, instead of on a drizzly Friday that many commuters could have converted into a three-day weekend.Mayor Michael Bloomberg said a strike next week “would be a lot worse than if a strike had taken place at midnight last night.””It would be really damaging to a lot of people,” he said. “A lot of people in this city work in industries where if the customers don’t show, they don’t have a job, they don’t get paid.”The transit workers are prohibited by state law from striking, and run the risk of heavy fines and lawsuits if they walk off the job.Turning up the pressure on the MTA in the meantime, the union announced plans for a limited strike Monday against two private bus lines in Queens that are being taken over by the MTA but are not yet covered by the law prohibiting walkouts by public employees. The two lines have about 50,000 riders and 750 workers.No new talks were scheduled.Before the latest round of negotiations broke up Friday morning, the union rejected what the MTA insisted was its last, best offer – a 9 percent wage increase over three years. The union had been asking for 8 percent a year for three years. Besides wages, sticking points included pension rules and health benefits.Train operators, station agents and cleaners are paid between $47,000 and $55,000 a year before overtime.—Associated Press writers Jim Fitzgerald, Adam Goldman, Sara Kugler, Elizabeth LeSure and Pat Milton in New York City, and Michael Virtanen in Albany, contributed to this report.