New Yorkers again braved freezing temperatures to find their way to work as a strike by transit workers kept the largest mass transportation system in the United States shut down for a second day.
Pressure on the Transit Workers Union is increasing. City officials are calling on the union's members to return to work and resume contract negotiations with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) the state-chartered corporation that oversees the city's public transportation.
Contract negotiations collapsed late Monday night, reportedly over a last minute pension proposal by the MTA. The MTA wanted new transit workers to contribute six percent of their wages to their pension funds as opposed to the two percent that current workers pay. The union refused. Some analysts question whether the proposal, which would have saved the MTA about $20 million over the next three years, was worth the cost of the strike. Others say the MTA was focused on long-term savings, which they estimate at $160 million over the next decade.
New York's head financial official, City Comptroller William Thompson, says there is plenty of blame to go around.
"I think we would all be disappointed to find out that the city has been disrupted for $20 million dollars," he said. "The pension discussion was about more than just the short term, I am sure it had to do with 10, 20, 30 years, but if that is what prevented a solution to a negotiation, then I think we all have a right to be angry. In the end, when we all sit back, I think there is going to be enough blame to go around."
City officials estimate that the first day of the strike cost New York $400 million and that each succeeding day will cost another $300 million dollars.
Meanwhile, a state court judge ordered the union to stop its illegal strike and slapped stiff fines of $1 million a day on the union for contempt of court. Under state law, public employees unions cannot strike.
Top union officials attended negotiating sessions with a state mediating panel Wednesday and are expected in court Thursday morning.
Federal mediators have offered to help, but under federal law, the federal government cannot intervene in the strike.