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As Strike Deadline Nears, MTA Seeks Penalties Against Union

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TWC News: As Strike Deadline Nears, MTA Seeks Penalties Against Union
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With a potential transit strike only three days away, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has asked a judge to enforce the state's Taylor Law, which make it illegal for public workers to strike.

While the Taylor Law prohibits any strike by public workers, the MTA is seeking an injunction to make certain that the penalties stipulated by the law would be enforced should the Transport Workers Union walk off the job Sunday at midnight. The suit, filed in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, seeks to dock workers two days' pay for every day of a strike.

Judge Jules Spodek is expected to make a final ruling on the injunction by tonight. Spodek echoed Mayor Michael Bloomberg's concerns of a strike becoming a “life or death situation” for the city.

“If a court issues an injunction against activity that could paralyze a whole community, that could cause· If a strike takes place, people are going to die because ambulances can't get through, prisoners can't be brought to trial. The results are terrible,” Spodek said. “And a preliminary injunction would give rise not only to the sanctions of the Taylor Law but to sanctions by virtue of contempt. It's a criminal contempt.”

In the last transit dispute in 1999, a judge set fines of at least $$25,000 for each worker participating in the strike.

The city has also filed its own lawsuit against the union, seeking damages for costs already incurred. The city estimates it's spent $$5 million on a contingency plan. Bloomberg also wants to impose a $$1 million fine on the union for each day of a strike and $$25,000 a day for each worker. The fines would double each day the strike continues.

“We seek penalties of $$1 million against the TWU, both Local 100 and the international union, and $$25,000 against the individual members of the local union. The fines would double each day the strike continues,” Bloomberg said.

“Mayor Bloomberg should shut up,” TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint responded Thursday afternoon. “His comments have not been helpful from the very beginning. His comments have been inflammatory. This is a mayor that took seven weeks to realize that he was also the mayor of Queens while he headed off to Bermuda. It took seven weeks for him to realize that he had to get involved and do his job with respect to the Queens [bus strike] situation, and he’s going down that same road of mistakes again and blundering again that he did there. If Mayor Bloomberg wants to be involved in these negotiations, he should come to the table. But he shouldn’t stand at a distance from the table and declare what the outcome of these negotiations are going to be.”

Meanwhile, negotiations are scheduled to go around-the-clock Friday at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Midtown.

TWU Local 100 leaders say union members are prepared to walk off the job when their contract expires Monday, a move that would affect the millions of commuters who use the city's subways and buses each day. Despite concessions by both sides, contract negotiations between the Transport Union and the MTA failed to produce an agreement Thursday.

“The fact is that we are in a difficult economic environment,” said Gary Dellaverson, the MTA’s Director of Labor. “I’m sure [the TWU] understands that, but it’s difficult to grapple with. It’s difficult for me to grapple with, but the fact is that I’m in the environment of the economy of New York City and New York State, and the MTA-specific environment, as are they. This is the environment that we are in, and they have to come to grips with that.”

MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow said in an editorial in Thursday's Daily News that the MTA's offer to the union is fair in light of the agency's $$2.7 million deficit. Kalikow also rebutted the union's claim that the MTA isn't offering any salary increases.

"It is time for the union to end its media negotiations and to respond to our offer at the bargaining table," Kalikow's editorial said. "Our wage proposal provides a clear blueprint for salary increases for all members of the Transport Workers Union in the second and third years of the contract."

Officials are expected to start round-the-clock negotiations on Friday, and negotiators say the talks will probably go down to Sunday's midnight deadline.

Toussaint described Wednesday’s sessions as “brief, but cordial,” and said that the union has lowered its initial demand of a 24 percent pay raise for its members over three years.

“We are eager to resolve a contract before the deadline, and pursuant to that we have adjusted our wage proposals to an annual six percent increase,” Toussaint said. “We hope and expect to find similar flexibility from the Transit Authority, but as things stand currently, the Transit Authority has not come to the table with any flexibility.”

According to Toussaint, the MTA did not modify its initial proposal, given last week, of no raises in the first year of the contract, and future negotiations for pay hikes in the last two years, in exchange for productivity gains. Toussaint also says the MTA has agreed to preserve health benefits for its workers, but wants employees to pay back into their pensions to help pay for the benefits.

In addition to the pay hikes, the MTA wants to divert 2.3 percent of workers’ salaries to its pension fund, which union leaders characterized as a pay cut. Workers are demanding better health benefits as well as improved safety procedures, citing the recent deaths of two employees hit by subway trains.

The city has put in place a contingency plan to provide alternatives for the estimated 7 million transit rides commuters make each day. Traffic restrictions to encourage carpooling would minimize the spike in traffic, while commuter rails, ferries, private buses and taxis would pick up the rest of the slack for dormant subways and buses.

Under the plan, private vehicles would not be able to enter or leave Manhattan without at least four occupants on weekdays and two on weekends. The same occupancy restrictions would apply to portions of some major highways, including the Long Island Expressway, the FDR Drive, the Gowanus Expressway, the Prospect Expressway, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Belt Parkway.

In addition, certain corridors in Manhattan would be reserved for emergency and public transportation vehicles, including buses and taxis. Restrictions on truck deliveries and suspensions of non-emergency construction and alternate-side-of-the-street parking rules would also reduce traffic.

Drivers would be encouraged to pick up friends and even strangers at carpool staging areas at Yankee and Shea stadiums and nearly three dozen other parks in the five boroughs. Ferry service to Manhattan would also be boosted, and taxis would be allowed to pick up multiple fares.

Meanwhile, the NYPD plans to have police officers drive city buses to move officers and other emergency personnel around if there's a transit strike.

Police officers with valid bus licenses will meet Friday for a briefing and assessment. Many of the officers moonlight as bus drivers, while others are former bus drivers.

The NYPD employees will mainly be used to move officers between Police Headquarters and the 911 command center in Brooklyn. They will not transport civilian passengers.

Other contingency plans were also announced Wednesday. The Taxi and Limousine Commission says that taxis, commuter vans and for-hire vehicles will all be providing group rides in the event of a strike. The TLC has set up sites all over the city just in case transit workers walk off the job Sunday night.

There will be 21 group pickup points in Manhattan. Some of the more centrally located ones include Wall Street, Penn Station, Grand Central station, Columbus Circle, and the George Washington Bridge.

In Queens, there will be five pickup points, at Shea Stadium, Kennedy Airport, LaGuardia Airport, Queensborough Plaza North, and the Long Island City Hunters Point rail road station.

Two sites are planned for Brooklyn, at Court Street at Borough Hall, and 95th Street at Fourth Avenue.

In the Bronx, commuters can catch a group ride at Yankee Stadium.

No group sites have been set up on Staten Island to this point, but to make arrangements, Staten Island commuters can call the TLC at 212-NYC-TAXI.

To take a group ride in a taxi, passengers will each pay $$2 and then split the price on the meter. There are some exceptions: passengers under the age of seven will not have to pay the surcharge, and passengers carrying a pet will not pay an extra fee for their pet.

For livery cabs, regular fares will be in effect, with no additional surcharges.

In addition, commuter vans will be charging $$1.50 per passenger for travel within the borough they serve. When traveling outside the borough, there will be a maximum charge of $$4 per person.

The TLC says it is serious about preventing price gauging. Any driver caught hiking up fares will be severely punished with fines and a possibility of their license being revoked.

Under the Long Island Rail Road's contingency plan, Long Island trains will go straight from Nassau County into the city. Queens stations will be served by special shuttle trains instead, and seven regular trains will be cancelled during the morning and evening commutes to provide for those shuttles. In Brooklyn, train service will remain the same.

The railroad is also telling customers that they must buy tickets before getting on the train during the rush hours. No tickets will be sold onboard within New York City limits during those times.

Under Metro-North's contingency plan, three shuttle train services will operate between the Bronx and Grand Central Terminal.

An East Bronx shuttle would serve the Tremont, Fordham, Botanical Garden, Williamsbridge, Woodlawn, Wakefield, and Mount Vernon West stations. A West Bronx shuttle would serve the Morris Heights, University Heights, Marble Hill, and Spuyten Duyvil stops.

The shuttle would also serve Riverdale off-peak and on weekends.

In addition, there would be a shuttle from Yankee Stadium that would serve a temporary park and ride facility every 20 to 30 minutes between 5:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., and between 3:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., seven days a week.

The Port Authority's strike contingency plan calls for additional PATH train service in and out of Manhattan, seven days a week, and the PA is encouraging commuters to buy "Quick Cards" to reduce turnstile delays.

The additional trains will run between Journal Square and 33rd Street on weekdays, and between Journal Square, Hoboken and 33rd Street on weekends.

The Port Authority will also add staff to help city police enforce the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes at Hudson River crossings, and to help keep traffic moving. If necessary, the express bus lane through the Lincoln Tunnel will also stay open longer.

Meanwhile, some taxi drivers are threatening a work stoppage if the transit strike occurs. The Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents about 10 percent of the city’s cabbies, says it will stand in solidarity with the TWU.

The TWA says all of its drivers will loose money if the strike takes place, because the streets will be so clogged with traffic. The group is also encouraging others to join in the effort.

However, the Taxi and Limousine Commission says it is confident all licensed drivers will do everything possible to assist their fellow New Yorkers.

Approximately half of the city’s 1.1 million students rely on public transportation, mostly in junior high and high schools, and the city stands to lose millions of dollars a day in state aid if they can’t get to school. “A strike would have a devastating effect on school children throughout this city, who desperately need to be in school during this season,” said Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

If there is a strike, the opening bell at all schools would be delayed two hours to allow extra time for carpools and school buses on expanded routes. However, kids will still get out of school at the same time.

Also, evening high school classes will be held at their regular times.

There will be some school cancellations in the event of a strike. Morning pre-kindergarten classes, all field trips and after-school programs run by the Public School Athletic League and Project Read will be put on hold. As far as other after-school program cancellations, parents can check with the individual schools.

For more information, you can call the Department of Education's hotline at 718-482-3777, or visit nycenet.edu.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service will close its office at 26 Federal Plaza Monday if the transit union walks off the job. It will remain closed to the public as long as there's a strike.

Applicants who have scheduled appointments for any day the office is closed will be rescheduled. INS officials say they will notify applicants by mail of any change in their appointment date.

For the latest on the possible strike, Bloomberg has created a hotline where New Yorkers can get up-to-date information.

The hotline is staffed by the Office of Emergency Management and the Department of Transportation. It is operational from 8 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday and will become a 24-hour a day service in case of a strike, starting at 8 a.m. Sunday.

The hotline can be reached in the 212 or 718 area code and is CALL DOT (225-5368).

If the strike occurs, the mayor, who has kept a campaign pledge to take the subway from his Upper East Side townhouse to City Hall every day, said, “I will probably take a bicycle to work.”

During the last transit strike, in 1980, transit service was interrupted for 11 days
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