Union Leaders Could Face Jail Time

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The city and state stepped up their pressure on striking transit workers Wednesday in hopes of forcing them back to work, and a judge indicated that he may send union leaders to jail for failing to end the strike.

State Supreme Court Justice Theodore Jones, who is hearing several legal issues related to the strike, directed attorneys from the Transport Workers Union to bring president Roger Toussaint and other top officials before the court Thursday to answer to a criminal contempt charge.

He said he may sentence the union leaders to jail for refusing to end the strike, calling such a scenario a "distinct possibility."

Union lawyer Arthur Schwartz said Toussaint and the other officials are in negotiations with mediators and that hauling them into court could halt the talks.

TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint agreed to meet with a mediator this afternoon as court proceedings continued to determine possible fines against individual union workers.

A union official told Eyewitness News that the meeting is a first sign that they are willing to end the debilitating walkout, which began Tuesday morning at 3:00 a.m., shutting down the city's subways and buses.

Richard Curreri, the director of conciliation at the Public Employment Relations Board, will meet with Toussaint this afternoon. They will be joined by two other professional mediators.

It is not clear if Toussaint would agree, if mediation fails, as is likely, to submit his contract dispute to a three-member panel of arbitrators whose decisions would be binding. Under that scenario, the union and the MTA would each choose one member of the panel, known as an "impasse panel." The union and the MTA would each have the right to strike names from a list of candidates for the third member of the panel.

In the past, Toussaint has strenuously ruled out arbitration as an option. However, arbitration was used to end the city's last transit strike, an 11-day walkout in April 1980.

The White House offered federal mediators to help end the dispute, but said that the law prevents it from stepping it. "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," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Meanwhile, city lawyers appeared before State Supreme Court Justice Theodore Jones in Brooklyn seeking an injunction against the walkout, which would allow the city to impose fines on the local, as as well as on individual striking workers of as much as $25,000.

Michael Cardozo, the corporation counsel, said that if a temporary restraining order were granted, the city could ask for $25,000-a-day fines per worker - a punishment that goes beyond the docked-pay penalty that workers already are experiencing for the illegal strike. "We're doing everything possible to make the union obey the law," he said, adding that union members need to "realize the economic consequences of their actions." 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.

Justice Jones said he intended to hear the city's argument as soon as possible. "We are at a point where time is of the essence," he said.

For a second day-- Mayor Bloomberg joined the mass of people commuting on foot across the Brooklyn bridge into Manhattan. Those who braved the commute in their cars found the ride somewhat smoother than yesterday-- that is until they hit the HOV checkpoints.

At least 900 transit workers have reportedly defied the union by crossing the picket lines, though Toussaint said today that report is not true. Management reportedly sent workers home and reportedly told them to wait for instructions. If enough employees decide to break ranks, it is possible there could be some limited subway service offered as early as tomorrow.

Our Ken Rosato reported at Noontime that Toussaint quoted from an Eyewitness News survey USA poll of 800 people in the area. It showed that 52 percent of the people say they were on the side of the Transport Workers Union. It said only 40 percent said they supported the MTA.

Yesterday Mr. Toussaint blamed the strike on management.

Roger Toussaint: "This strike was provoked by the MTA, the Governor and the Mayor."

The question is when will the strike be over? Could it end Thursday?

Toussaint: "Possible. These matters could be resolved in hours if there's a will."

Eyewitness News' Dave Evans was outside State Supreme Court at Noontime, and reported that the matter at hand seems to be whether to fine individual workers two days pay for everyone day their out on the strike.

Picketers marched in front of court this morning while inside union members argued over charges against two unions also involved in the strike.

Although Roger Toussaint hinted the strike might end Thursday, it go on through the holidays. And the week between New Year's and Christmas is usually slow. So far the members on this one aren't' caving into the union's demands.

Governor Pataki: "The union cannot break the law, they must come back to work. The government must uphold the law and we will do that."

Also this afternoon, Michael Cardoza the City's Attorney will bring up the matter of trying to bring huge fines against executives on the Local 100 Union. Those consist of $25,000 daily fines for executives like Roger Toussaint.

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