- The Washington Times - Monday, December 16, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) Negotiators for the city transit authority and the union representing subway and bus workers were in round-the-clock contract talks yesterday with just hours to go before a deadline that could trigger a crippling strike.
A walkout would shut a transit system that carries roughly 7 million riders each day. It also could cost the financially strapped city as much as $350 million a day.
"We have made a little progress, however, we are still far apart on economic issues," Transport Workers Union Secretary-Treasurer Ed Watt said yesterday morning.
The existing contract was due to expire at 12:01 a.m. today, but union negotiators had said privately it was possible the talks could continue into today without an immediate strike. However, when Mr. Watts was asked yesterday if the deadline could be extended, he said: "That's not under consideration."
Late Saturday, the two sides had offered vastly different portrayals of the progress, with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) calling the talks productive and the union accusing the MTA of bargaining in bad faith.
MTA negotiator Gary Dellaverson told reporters Saturday evening that the two sides had moved closer to agreement on pay raises, sick leave and discipline.
"I feel quite good about it," he said.
Mr. Watt later denied that progress had been made, telling reporters that union leaders "do not share Mr. Dellaverson's optimism at this time."
Also Saturday, the union appealed an injunction issued by a judge that barred the union from striking. In the appeal, union lawyer Arthur Schwartz said in part that the injunction was a violation of the union's First Amendment right to free speech.
The injunction, issued Friday, reinforced the state's Taylor Law, which bars strikes by public employees. It raised the possibility that strikers could face contempt charges or possible jail time in addition to Taylor Law fines of two days' pay for every day they strike.
The union is seeking 6 percent annual raises over three years, while the MTA, facing a $1 billion deficit this year, is offering no raise the first year and possible raises the following two years tied to productivity increases.

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