- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — A judge yesterday threatened to jail leaders of New York’s striking transit union for criminal contempt as millions of commuters trudged through the second day of the bus and subway walkout.

The strike by the 33,000-member Transport Workers Union (TWU) is illegal under a state law that bars public employees from walking out.

State Justice Theodore Jones directed attorneys of the TWU to bring union local President Roger Toussaint and other top officials before the court today. The justice said there was a “distinct possibility” that he would send them to jail for refusing to end the strike against the nation’s largest transit system.

Intensifying the pressure on the union, the city asked the judge to issue a back-to-work order. If the judge issues the order and the workers ignore it, the city could ask for fines against rank-and-file members — a punishment that goes beyond the two days’ pay they are losing for every day on strike under the no-walkout law.

The fines would be at the discretion of the judge, and most likely would range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.

“It needs to end, and it needs to end right now,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said. He called the strike “illegal, selfish” and questioned how union leaders could say that their walkout was done to benefit the working class.

“Working people are the ones who are being hurt,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “The busboy is getting hurt, the garment-industry worker is getting hurt, the owners of mom-and-pop businesses. … The ones getting hurt the most are the ones who can least afford it. If they don’t get paid, they don’t eat.”

TWU attorney Arthur Schwartz said union leaders were in negotiations with mediators and that hauling them into court could halt the talks.

The union walked out over wages and pension contributions Monday in the city’s first transit strike in more than 25 years.

The strike was responsible for a 40 percent decline in business at restaurants, an 80 percent decline in the number of visitors at museums, and a 90 percent decline in customer traffic at the Fulton Mall in Brooklyn, the mayor said. He has estimated a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars a day for the city.

Meanwhile, millions of New Yorkers trudged to and from work, some walking miles and others riding bicycles and in-line skating in the cold.

“A nightmare, disorganized, especially going home,” Aleksandra Radakovic said in describing her commute.

The White House also spoke out yesterday, saying federal mediators have offered to help end the dispute.

“It is unfortunate. We hope that the two sides can resolve their differences so that the people in New York can get to where they need to go,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

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