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N.Y. Prepares for Possible Transit Strike

December 13, 2002

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NEW YORK (AP) _ Bond broker Vince DiGaetano would dust off his old bicycle, while Bronx teenager Alex Macari would ``depend on my own two feet.″ Attorney Seth Rowland would telecommute and suburbanite Joan Cronin would give up holiday shopping in Manhattan.

As city, state and transit officials asked a judge Thursday to block a potential strike by 34,000 bus and subway workers, millions of people made their own plans in case the nation’s largest public transportation system is shut down next week.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said a strike would cost New York City and its businesses hundreds of millions of dollars every day, economic damage experts say would ripple across the nation.

``Because of New York’s pre-eminence in the national and global financial markets, this will be detrimental to businesses throughout the United States,″ said Anthony Savino, an attorney and professor at St. John’s University.

Staffing problems would hit major banks and corporate deals would be disrupted or delayed, he said. Tourism could suffer in a city already facing a multibillion-dollar deficit.

A state law prohibits public employees from striking. The city is seeking a preliminary injunction blocking a strike by imposing fines on the national and local union of $1 million, and $25,000 on each union member who walks out.

``We simply cannot afford this. A strike would be phenomenally damaging,″ Bloomberg said Thursday.

Roger Toussaint, president of the Transport Workers Union, had harsh words for Bloomberg at a news conference.

``Mayor Bloomberg should shut up,″ he said. ``His comments have not been helpful from the very beginning. ... The fines, the injunctions are not going to determine the outcome of this contract.″

The request for a court injunction was to be the subject of a hearing Friday, and more talks were scheduled Thursday to try to reach a deal before the contract expires Sunday. Union members have authorized a strike as early as Monday.

The city hasn’t had a transit strike since an 11-day walkout in April 1980. The transit system moves 7 million people daily.

Companies are drafting backup plans in case their employees can’t get to work _ chartering buses, sending workers to suburban backup offices or letting them work from home.

Last year’s terrorist attack forced large firms such as banks and insurance companies to be prepared for situations that leave workers scattered, said Kathryn Wylde, president of the New York City Partnership business advocacy group.

``The big companies have invested in both alternate work locations and arrangements for people to work from home,″ Wylde said.

J.P. Morgan Chase said some of its 36,500 employees in the region would work from home and others would be redirected to offices in Connecticut, New Jersey and Westchester County.

Al Wood, senior vice president with the Clearinghouse, a consortium of banks, said the organization is renting 55 buses that could transport up to 10,000 people a day to locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Other businesses say it is up to their employees to figure out how to get to work.

John Bonomo, a spokesman for Verizon, said contingency planning for the company’s 22,000 city employees is being done by individual departments.

``We stress that it’s their responsibility to get to work to serve our customers,″ Bonomo said.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority would convert some of its suburban commuter trains into shuttles between Manhattan and the outer boroughs. Workers on those lines, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad, are not covered by the same contract.

Under the city’s contingency plan, taxis could pick up multiple fares, ferry routes would be increased and passenger vehicles would be required to carry at least four people to enter or leave Manhattan on weekdays. Bloomberg, who usually takes the subway, says he would bike to work.

Macari, the Bronx teenager who takes a subway train and a bus to get home from Manhattan, said he has few options if the system shut down.

``We don’t have a car in my family, and we don’t have enough money for cabs,″ he said.

Wylde estimated that as much as 75 percent of the normal work force would not have a way to get to Manhattan if there were a strike. Small businesses were likely to suffer, she said, because they don’t have backup locations.

``Chances are that a lot of the small businesses will just close up shop.″

She said retailers would be hit hard as well, noting, ``It is hard for them to know what to plan for, since their customer base is probably going to be dramatically affected.″

Shoppers like Cronin, who was waiting for a Metro-North commuter train to Norwalk, Conn., ``just won’t come in,″ she said. ``If there’s a strike, where are you going to find a cab?″

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Associated Press Writer Karen Matthews contributed to this story.

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