New York has seen nothing like it in 25 years: a mass walkout by bus and subway workers has forced thousands of commuters to get about on foot. The 34,000 members of the Transport Workers Union called a strike after the collapse of last-ditch talks. Pay, healthcare, pensions and retirement are at the heart of the action.
Union chief Roger Toussaint said: “New Yorkers, this is a fight over whether hard work will be rewarded with decent retirement. This is a fight over the erosion or eventual elimination of health benefit coverage for the working people of New York.”
The transport system is the biggest in the country and carries some seven million passengers a day. Unlike other US cities, cars are not the preferred mode of transport for commuters in New York. So this strike is certainly making its presence felt
One commuter said: “On the one hand, it’s disappointing, because it doubles the difficulties of my commute and of everybody’s commute. So I’m not looking forward to that, today. On the other hand I understand the worker’s right and need to advocate for themselves.” Though they may have some public support, they do not seem to have the law on their side: the walkout violates state legislation prohibiting public employees from going on strike.
In the run-up to Christmas it could cost the economy about 400 millions dollars a day (nearly 350 million euros). New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is furious: “We will seek to show that the TWU
is in contempt of the court’s earlier injunction and ask the court to impose severe fines on the union and its members.” Bloomberg has branded the strike illegal, morally reprehensible and cowardly.
The union could face fines of up to 25,000 dollars (21,000 euros) for each day workers down tools.
There is concern the Big Apple’s transport system could remain closed for a while to come. The last such strike to hit the city was in 1980 and dragged on for 11 days.