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Judges Chime In on Transit Strike

December 14, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ Threatening to impose ruinous fines, a judge Tuesday issued twin restraining orders barring New York’s bus and subway workers from going on strike at midnight during the height of the Christmas rush.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the city transit agency obtained the restraining orders from state Supreme Court Justice Michael L. Pesce, who said a strike by the 33,000-member union would be illegal under a state law barring walkouts by public employees.

In response, Gil Rodriguez, vice president of the Transit Workers Union local, called on workers not to ``do anything that would cause us harm.″

``Everything is supposed to run tomorrow,″ he said. Asked about a possible strike, he responded, ``I can’t say the word.″

New York’s first transit strike since an 11-day walkout in April 1980 would strand 3.5 million daily riders and bring the Christmas rush to a crawl.

Round-the-clock negotiations continued, with both sides reporting some progress. The major sticking point was wages.

The union demanded a raise of 27 percent over three years. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority would not discuss its latest offer, but union workers said it was 10 percent over four years.

The judge ordered fines starting at $1 million a day against union if the workers walked out when their contract expired at midnight. Fines against the union would double daily. Strikers themselves could face fines of $25,000 each on the first day of a strike, also doubling each day.

Just in case, the city made arrangements for emergency ferry service and the use of 500 private commuter vans, and said it would ban cars with fewer than three people from entering Manhattan during rush hour.

New Yorkers starting looking for ways to get to work.

``I usually take the subway in from Queens, and I don’t think I can make it in if there’s a strike,″ said Elyse Barton, 40, who works as a legal secretary in Manhattan. ``Besides, my baby sitter comes from Brooklyn, so she probably can’t make it to my house.″

Chief MTA negotiator Gary Dellaverson said his agency sought a court order in response to ``inflammatory statements by the militant wing of the union.″ He would not elaborate.

Hundreds of union workers gathered in Manhattan for an update.

``The Transit Authority is offering peanuts,″ said Carlos Portero, a transit worker in Brooklyn. ``Why are the laws only for one side? The TA is getting what they want, but they’re not playing fair.″

Some workers said they supported a strike despite the court orders.

``We need a strike,″ said Carlos Portero, a maintenance worker in Brooklyn. ``It’s the only language they understand.″