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December 15, 2002

Strike Talk

Although I haven't written about it much, I've been following the news regarding the potential transit strike, which would kick in at 12:01 am tonight if the union decides to go through with it. Everybody here can't help but talk about it, and everybody's got their own take on it. Although these things happen, it seems hard not to be suspicious when you're stuck waiting an inordinate amount of time for each leg of your subway ride, and you only have minutes to spare to get to your railroad train, and it's the week before a possible strike.

There are those who are sure it's going to happen and are relishing the potential epic drama of it - the sight of people walking the city's bridges en masse, or riding their bicycles or carpooling - and everyone grumbling in typical New York fashion yet perversely enjoying the fact that we're tough enough to take on any hardship and no one's gonna bring us down. The mayor, who just bought a mountain bike for his commute from the Upper East Side to City Hall, is rather fixated on emphasizing how New Yorkers are going to die because the streets will be so clogged with traffic, emergency vehicles won't get to them in time. These are the people who don't want to think anyone's got one pulled over them - they know what's really going on - and don't even try to tell 'em otherwise. Then there are others who think the rest are Chicken Littles, small-minded rabble who don't have anything better to do than make idle speculations. They're going to sit back and enjoy being right, because the strike's not gonna happen. Everybody's making their predictions, but no one's betting money on it.

The more I've been reading about it though, mostly through the Times, I'm beginning to see why the transit workers are willing to stomach the penalties of gutwrenching fines against both the union and themselves (two days' pay for every day they're on strike). For instance, the MTA sends inspectors to check on employees who've called in sick, actually going to their houses. There are thousands of citations issued for all kinds of infractions, as if the workers are high schoolers in need of detentions. For tranporting more people and working with older equipment in dirtier and more dangerous situations than the railroad employees, the transit workers make less money. The MTA does claim, however, that although they make less money, their pensions are better. And why, even though the teachers, police, and firefighters got double-digit pay raises (that they all had to fight for, certainly), are the transit workers the ones being asked to make the sacrifice because the city's finances are going down the toilet? And it's not like the mayor or the governor, who is really the head of the MTA and should be more involved in this fracas, have come to the negotiating table.

Somewhere between the union's position and that of the MTA and the city, something can be worked out that everybody can live with. They've got to. It seems that the union would be more willing to work with management if they didn't feel treated as second-class (in comparison to teachers, the police and firefighters). It would have been the right thing for the mayor to have attended the funerals of two workers who died on the job in the last few weeks. The pay is obviously important to them, but it seems that what they also really want is to be accorded the same level of respect for the work they do in transporting millions of people safely and effectively, getting people to where they want to go.

As for me, I am selfishly hoping we'll have a little strike, at least long enough to get me out of having to have my project turned in on Tuesday. Ok, kidding, kidding!

Yours, &c., LC | 12:20 PM |