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December 22, 2005

The End of the NYC Transit Strike

Just as I was writing on how to end the NYC Transit Strike, online news popped up that it is ending.  I hope it is true that the Transit Authority did not negotiate during the strike or make concessions in order to get this illegal action ended.  Such negotiations amount to making concessions in return for ending an illegal action.  This is not acceptable and leads to more illegal actions.

The penalties against the striking workers should be enforced and the fines levied on them should be collected.  Union leaders should still be prosecuted.

I’m not saying all this because I’m a grinch.  If New York and the Transit Authority don’t uphold the law against strikes by public workers, the City will face many more such actions.  It’s significant that, although the Transit Workers Union’s own parent union did not support the strike, the New York City teachers union did.  The City has tough negotiations ahead with teachers, fireman, police and other unionized city workers.  They all have a right to negotiate.  There is a mediation and arbitration procedure for impasse.  But members of all of these groups knew that they waived their right to strike when they took the jobs they did.

Reports that the Transit Authority backed down on most of its pension-related demands are troubling.  The next generation is going to have a huge struggle to make good on the pensions – public and private – which have already been promised. Private companies now have to disclose these liabilities – really loans from the future. The law is changing so that government will also have to make full disclosure of how mortgaged we are.  Politicians and public boards (and private companies) must stop making new unfunded promises so that the old ones can be kept.

Prior to the air traffic controllers strike, the federal government had routinely caved in to illegal strikes and threats of strikes by not only air traffic controllers but also postal workers, customs inspectors, and other unionized federal groups. 

Jailing union leaders doesn’t work.  It just makes them into martyrs.  Not a good plan even if satisfying and just.  Fining striking workers and their unions doesn’t work because amnesty always seems to be a part of the final settlement.

President Reagan gave the controllers a few days to return to work and fired those that didn’t.  These threats have stopped.  BTW, federal workers ARE well compensated nevertheless.

I don’t know the applicable New York labor law (or much other law, for that matter).  It may well be that a court decision would have been necessary to establish that workers who violate a condition of work which they have agreed to – no strikes – can be summarily fired.  In the extreme, it may have been that the City Council and/or the New York Legislature would have had to act.  If laws have to be changed for the next strike, they should be.

I don’t think many striking transit workers would have stayed away if a deadline had been set.  That means that not many would have been fired which is a good thing both for them and for us.  If I’m wrong, New York would have suffered through an extended retraining period in order to replace fired workers.  However, the nation got through a period of training new controllers and, with all due respect, it’s got to be easier to train transit workers.

Despite this rant, I hope you and everyone else has a very happy holiday.

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