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NYC Transit Standoff Intensifies

December 15, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) _ Transit workers and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority intensified their rhetoric Thursday in the final hours of negotiations before their contract expires, trying to reach a last-minute deal and avert a devastating strike.

The two sides remain far apart, and leaders from both groups expressed frustration.

MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow suggested at a news conference that arbitration might be the best solution _ a statement that infuriated the union.

``We believe the remarks by Chairman Kalikow are very unfortunate, and (it) does not bode well for these negotiations,″ said Roger Toussaint, president of the Transport Workers Union.

A strike after the current contract expires at 12:01 a.m. Friday would leave more than 7 million daily riders looking for other ways to get around. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s advice: Get creative.

``Bicycle, walk, stay with a friend,″ Bloomberg said.

A strike could cost the city hundreds of millions per day in overtime and lost business and productivity. The strike was not expected to affect ferries or suburban commuter lines.

The union’s 33,000 members want 8 percent annual raises over three years and contend they should get a share of the MTA’s unexpected $1 billion surplus this year.

After the transit bombings in Madrid and London, they also want more terrorism training, saying they feel unprepared to handle disasters. The two sides also are at odds over pension contributions.

Train operators, station agents and cleaners now earn $47,000 to $55,000 a year before overtime.

The MTA has proposed 6 percent raises spread over 27 months and says the surplus is not likely to happen again and needs to go toward future expenses. Deficits are predicted for upcoming years.

The agency’s budget outlines spending for some of the $1 billion surplus, including $450 million for underfunded pension plans and $100 million for security.

If workers strike, sales are expected to suffer at Fifth Avenue shops and department stores such as Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s _ major holiday destinations in the nation’s retail capital. Bloomberg urged tourists not to break their plans.

``If they’re going to be in Midtown and staying in hotels, there will be a lot of people on the street,″ Bloomberg said of a strike scenario. ``They may find it a lot of fun and they’ll certainly get their money’s worth.″

A walkout would be illegal under state law, and the workers could face tough penalties, including two days’ pay for each day they strike. They could also face fines of $25,000 on the first day that double every day thereafter. Strengthening the transit agency’s hand, a judge issued an injunction Tuesday that bars the workers from striking.

Many companies were encouraging employees to work from home or other offices, and some were arranging for private buses and ferries. One advertising agency gave out vouchers for new sneakers.

Kisha Smalls, who takes the subway from her home in the Bronx to class in Manhattan, said she doesn’t know how she’d get downtown if workers strike.

``I’d probably have to stay home _ I hope it doesn’t happen but they need their money so I understand,″ she said.

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Associated Press Writer Pat Milton contributed to this report.