Strike Ends: ‘Giuliani Time’?

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After showing the power it wields despite a campaign of intimidation and demonization by New York Governor George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Transport Workers Union executive board has voted this afternoon to end the City’s three-day strike.

Mayor Bloomberg came under scathing condemnation for the inflammatory – some say racist – language he used to describe union members who went on strike early Tuesday morning, calling their action “thuggish.� While New Yorkers welcome an end to the strike, some believe the mayor’s remarks may damage the relatively strong support he enjoys with African Americans—TWU membership is largely Black and Latino. “We all know what ‘thug’ refers to,� says Martin Halcombe, a Harlem resident, who works as a security guard at a McDonalds. “Basically, when a white person hears of a thug, he’s thinking Black and he’s thinking criminal. It’s gang-sta reference. I bet you Giuliani was in the background somewhere,� he added, a reference to former mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, known for his animus towards African Americans.

Several Harlem residents shared Halcombe’s take on the situation. “I never heard Bloomberg refer to the Police Union as thugs when they wanted a better contract. He didn’t call the teachers thugs. Those unions have mostly whites. This sound like the kind of shit Giuliani use to say about Blacks,� said LaShawn James, who owns a hair salon in Harlem.

Roger Toussaint, leader of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) this afternoon called on the 34,000 employees to return the work—the strike had put a halt to all metropolitan subway lines and bus lines ferrying million of New Yorkers to and from work everyday and night. The TWU executive voted 36 in favor, five against and two abstentions, to end the strike. NYC’s system carries seven million commuters; many people improvised various ways of getting to work including walking several miles everyday.

NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson estimated that NYC’s losses from the strike at over $900 million.

After spending most of yesterday in court arguing – with the MTA asking a judge to impose heavy fines on the TWU and its leaders – there was hint of possible breakthrough today when talks between the TWU leaders and the MTA resumed. TWU leaders still face criminal contempt charges at State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.

It may still take as many as 15 hours before the trains and buses are back. It’s believed intervention of Richard Curreri, Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) mediator helped this partial resolution. It remains to be seen what kind of deal TWU wins at the end. Workers will return as MTA and TWU hammer a new deal. TWU had walked away from talks earlier this week when the MTA in a sneak move demanded that the union agree that all new hires pay 6% toward their pension; all current employees pay 2%.

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