Jail Threat Ups Ante for NYC Union Heads
By DAVID B. CARUSO
Associated Press Writer
Dec 21 2:52 PM US/Eastern
NEW YORK - The city and state stepped up their
pressure on striking transit workers Wednesday in
hopes of forcing them back to work, and a judge said
sending union leaders to jail was a "distinct
possibility." State Supreme Court Justice Theodore
Jones, who is hearing several legal issues related to
the strike, directed attorneys from the Transport
Workers Union to bring president Roger Toussaint and
other top officials before the court Thursday to
answer to a criminal contempt charge. He said he may
sentence the union leaders to jail for refusing to end
the strike, calling such a scenario a "distinct
Union lawyer Arthur Schwartz said Toussaint and the
other officials are in negotiations with mediators and
that hauling them into court could halt the talks.
The possibility of jail time for union leaders was one
of several developments Wednesday as millions of New
Yorkers made their way to work in another
bone-chilling commute without subways and buses.
Michael A. Cardozo, New York City's corporation
counsel, asked the judge to issue an order directing
union members to return to work. If the order is
granted, Cardozo said, the city could ask for
$25,000-a- day fines per worker _ a punishment that
goes beyond the docked-pay penalty that workers
already are experiencing for the illegal strike.
"We're doing everything possible to make the union
obey the law," he said, adding that union members need
to "realize the economic consequences of their
The fines would be at the discretion of the judge, and
most likely would range from a few hundred dollars to
a few thousand dollars.
Meanwhile, New Yorkers were out before sunrise, hoping
to avoid the long lines and crushing crowds that
formed at commuter rail stations during rush hour
Tuesday. Outside Penn Station, several taxis had lined
up by 7 a.m. to pick up passengers hoping to beat the
rush. A trip across Manhattan took about 90 minutes.
"A nightmare, disorganized, especially going home,"
Aleksandra Radakovic said Wednesday morning in
describing her commute.
The White House also spoke out on the strike
Wednesday, saying federal mediators have offered to
help end the dispute. "It is unfortunate. We hope that
the two sides can resolve their differences so that
the people in New York can get to where they need to
go," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
On Tuesday, Jones imposed a huge fine against the
Transport Workers Union _ $1 million for each day of
the strike; Schwartz said the fine could deplete the
union's treasury in the matter of days. The union
vowed to immediately appeal.
In addition, the union's 33,000 members already face
the loss of two days pay for every day they are on
strike. That means a prolonged strike could quickly
eat up any increased pay they would get with a new
Some of the strikers got an early start Wednesday,
donning union placards and returning to their picket
lines. Bill McRae, a bus driver since 1985, said he
thought negotiations should have continued _ but he
still backed the walkout.
"The union executives called for a strike, and we have
to do what we have to do," McRae said on Manhattan's
Transit officials said about 1,000 transit workers
came to work Tuesday despite the strike, and they were
put to work cleaning and doing paperwork.
As they did on the first day of the strike, throngs of
pedestrians, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on
Wednesday braced themselves against the 24-degree
weather and crossed the Brooklyn Bridge into
Manhattan. Volunteers awaited them, offering hot
Bloomberg urged transit workers to end the strike.
"All the transit workers have to do is listen to their
international (union) that's urged them to go back to
work, listen to the judge who ordered them back to
work, and look at their families and their own
economic interests," he said. "They should go back to
work. Nobody's above the law, and everyone should obey
The International TWU, the union's parent, had urged
the local not to go on strike. Its president, Michael
O'Brien, reiterated Tuesday that the striking workers
were legally obligated to resume working. The only way
to a contract, he said, is "not by strike but
Police say there have been no strike-related crimes,
injuries or arrests with the exception of two minor
On Tuesday night, a cab driver was arrested on the
Upper East Side for allegedly assaulting a woman in
his cab after they got into an argument over the fare.
She sustained minor injuries. And earlier Tuesday, a
police officer was accidentally bumped by a flatbed
truck at a checkpoint in Queens.
"The city is functioning, and functioning well
considering the severe circumstances," Bloomberg said
before ripping into the union.
The TWU "shamefully decided they don't care about the
people they work for, and they have no respect for the
law," the mayor said.
In its last offer before negotiations broke down, the
MTA had proposed maintaining a retirement age of 55
but increasing what new hires contribute to the
pension plan. It would require new employees to pay 6
percent of their wages for their first 10 years,
rather than the current 2 percent. Union officials
said that such a change was unacceptable.
"Were it not for the pension piece, we would not be
out on strike," Toussaint said in an interview with
NY1. "All it needs to do is take its pension proposal
off the table."
The union said the latest MTA offer included annual
raises of 3 percent, 4 percent and 3.5 percent; the
previous proposal included 3 percent raises each year.
The MTA asked the Public Employment Relations Board to
formally declare an impasse, the first step toward
forcing binding arbitration of the contract, said
James Edgar, the board's executive director.