The city's subways rumbled to life just after midnight Friday, ending a crippling, three-day strike that brought the nation's largest public transportation system to a standstill. Faced with mounting fines and the rising wrath of millions of commuters, the city transit union on Thursday sent its members back to work without a new contract. Buses started rolling shortly before 11 p.m. in Manhattan and at least one subway station opened offering free rides.
"I'm ecstatic that it's over, but I'm still really mad that they did it," said Jessica Cunningham, 21, who was in town for the holiday. "I really think it's screwed up that they decided to strike the week before Christmas." The breakthrough came after an all-night session with a mediator. Around midday, leaders of the 33,000-member Transport Workers Union overwhelmingly voted to return to work and resume negotiations with the transit authority on a new three-year contract.
"We thank our riders for their patience and forbearance," said union local president Roger Toussaint. While the deal put transit system back in operation, it did not resolve the underlying dispute, pension contributions were the main sticking point, meaning there could be another walkout if the negotiations fail.
The strike cost the city untold millions in police overtime and lost business and productivity at the very height of the Christmas rush and forced millions of commuters, holiday shoppers and tourists to carpool, take taxis, ride bicycles or trudge through the freezing cold. But the strike did not cause the utter chaos that many had feared, and traffic in many parts of town was surprisingly light.
"In the end, cooler heads prevailed," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "We passed the test with flying colors. We did what we had to do to keep the city running, and running safely." The walkout, which began early Tuesday, was New York's first citywide transit strike in more than 25 years. The workers left their jobs in violation of a state law prohibiting public employees from striking.
The return to work was announced just minutes before Toussaint and two of his top deputies were due in a Brooklyn courtroom to answer criminal contempt charges that could have landed them in jail. Earlier this week, state Justice Theodore Jones fined the union $1 million (Ђ850,000) a day for striking. And under the state no-strike law, the rank-and-file members were automatically docked two days' pay for each day they stayed off the job, reports the AP. N.U.