New York appears to be moving closer to a transit strike that could leave millions stranded without subways and buses as early as Friday.
The state comptroller’s office has estimated that a walkout by the Transport Workers Union could cost the city more than $200 million each day in lost economic activity.
The city meanwhile has drawn up emergency plans in the event of a strike. Vehicles carrying less than four people would be banned from entering Manhattan south of 96th Street from 5 to 11 a.m.
Commercial traffic will be banned in the same area during those hours, and the same restrictions would be in place for all bridges and tunnels leading into Manhattan.
During the evening rush, all lanes along the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges will only run out of Manhattan. The same will hold true for the Brooklyn Battery, Queens Midtown and Lincoln Tunnels.
Queens commuters would be urged to use alternative means of transportation into the city, such as bicycle or pedestrian routes across the East River. Car pool areas will be set up at Shea Stadium and at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The Long Island Rail Road is another option, but it will likely be extremely crowded.
Public schools would open two hours later than usual. Students will be dismissed at their usual times, but all afterschool programs, field trips and morning pre-kindergarten classes would be cancelled.
Employers would be asked to stagger their schedules and allow employees to work from home, if possible.
Cabs would be allowed to pick up fares at bus stops, and will be encouraged to pick up more than one passenger if they’re headed in the same direction.
New Yorkers looking for information in the event of a strike can go to several web sites. The Straphangers Campaign, a subway advocacy group, will post links on its own web site, www.straphangers.org.
Under the slogan “in case of strike, bike,” Transportation Alternatives is offering tips on how to bicycle to work at www.transalt.org. The information includes what to wear, what routes to take and free bike maps.
The MTA (www.mta.nyc.ny.us) and the city (www.nyc.gov) are expected to post contingency plans on how to travel, if a strike occurs.
The contract covering Transport Workers Union Local 100 expires at 12:01 a.m. on Friday. The union has threatened to shut down the city’s subway and bus system if it fails to reach a deal with the MTA by that time.
If the city’s 33,000 transit workers walk out, they would be violating the Taylor Law, which forbids public workers from striking. Under the law, transit workers would be fined two days’ pay for every day they spend on strike.
On Tuesday, a judge granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting the workers from striking. In a separate lawsuit, the city wants each union member fined $25,000 for the first day of a strike, a figure that would double each day thereafter. It also asked the judge to fine the union $1 million on the first day of a strike, doubling each day after.
The MTA says it can only afford raises if they are financed through productivity savings. It has offered the union a 2-year contract that includes a 3 percent raise in the first year. Workers would get a 2 percent raise the second year if they cut the average number of sick days they take each year from 13 to 12.
The MTA is also asking for co-payments on medical bills, and for new workers to contribute 3 percent of their salary to pensions and retire at age 62 instead of 55.
The agency also has plans to cut 118 jobs in 2006 and eliminate conductors on the No. 7, J and V trains by 2008.
This angers TWU leaders, who argue that the MTA should share next year’s expected $1-billion surplus with them.
The union is demanding annual raises of 8 percent for three straight years and has vowed to block job cuts. The union just won a court ruling preventing the MTA from initiating conductorless service on the L train.
Local TWU President Roger Toussaint said he does not want a strike, but has rallied his workers by calling the MTA “an evil empire” and accusing it of insensitivity in the death of a motorman.
He told union members at a rally Saturday that if they accept the MTA’s current proposal, “you will never be able to look into your children’s eyes again and say you did the right thing.”
New York City has been through two transit strikes in the last forty years.
The 12-day strike of 1966 began at 5 a.m. on New Year’s Day, after workers completed their shifts. Sales at department stores fell 50 percent, and an estimated 1.5 million New Yorkers could not get to work. When the strike ended, buses and trains were back on line in an hour.
The union also walked out in 1980, when its leaders rejected a 16-percent raise over three years. Then Mayor Ed Koch urged New Yorkers to commute on foot, by bicycle or in car pools. Women began going to work in sneakers and changing into their heels at work.
Straphangers Campaign staff attorney Gene Russianoff said he is optimistic that a paralyzing strike will be averted.
“This has happened every three years for a quarter of a century,” he said. “We have every reason to believe that these parties will come to an agreement.”