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New York Transit Strike Ends; Services to Resume

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Buses and subways will be rolling again soon in New York City. Transit union leaders voted this afternoon to end their three-day strike after state mediators worked out a deal to bring them back to the negotiating table. Union members will work without a new contract, and for millions of New Yorkers, commuting will slowly begin heading back to normal as early as this evening. More on the Transport Workers Union and its leader in a moment. First, NPR's Luke Burbank reports on the day's events.

LUKE BURBANK reporting:

These were the words just about every New Yorker, even those who had sometimes grumbled about the hassles of mass transit, were waiting to hear.

Mr. ROGER TOUSSAINT (President, Transport Workers Union): I'm pleased to announce that the Local 100 executive board just voted overwhelmingly to direct transit workers to return to work immediately and to resume bus and subway service throughout the five boroughs. We thank all riders for their patience and forbearance, and we will be providing various details regarding the outcome of the strike in the next several days.

BURBANK: The announcement, by Transport Union president Roger Toussaint, meant an end was finally in sight to the epic traffic jams, bitter cold walks and general sense of confusion brought by the three-day strike. Just 24 hours ago things looked bleak, with a judge threatening jail time for Toussaint and his associates and the union digging in its heels. But to the surprise of many, both sides came together during the dark of night and didn't stop talking till an agreement to end the strike had been reached. You could see the relief on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's face.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Republican, New York City): I'm pleased that the TWU executive board has followed the recommendations of its leadership and the New York state mediators and voted to return to work. Based on that vote, the New York City Transit Authority is asking its workers to report for their next shift, which begins at 4 PM.

BURBANK: Of course, that didn't magically put subway cars back on the rails. Estimates were that it could take anywhere from eight to 24 hours to get the system running at full capacity again. And there's also that pesky matter of agreeing on an actual contract, though both sides did seem optimistic. To keep things friendly, they agreed not to speak with the media during negotiations.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JASON KNAGGS (The Salvation Army): I'd like to make an announcement. We've heard that the strike is over and that the workers will be going back to work really soon.

BURBANK: Standing outside the Grand Hyatt, where the negotiations had been going on, was Jason Knaggs, possibly the most outgoing seminarian ever educated at The Salvation Army's School for Officers Training.

Mr. KNAGGS: The subways and the buses are back open. Let's all celebrate by putting a dollar in the kettle today!

BURBANK: Driving his cab north through Manhattan, Richard Joyce, who himself had to take a cab to and from his cab because of the strike, was equally elated.

Mr. RICHARD JOYCE (Taxi Driver): Oh, it's fantastic. It's just absolutely fantastic.

BURBANK: He says haggling over the special fares enacted during the city's strike plan was not worth the extra money he was making.

Mr. JOYCE: I've had trouble sleeping because of the fact that I'm so wired when I get home from dealing with the traffic. And I would have certainly forfeited the 50 or 60 or $70 that I made extra that day easy just to get some sleep.

BURBANK: Over on the West Side, standing on a picket line outside the bus terminal where he normally works, union member Paul Astarita had one eye on the protest and the other on the front door.

Mr. PAUL ASTARITA (Union Member): I will walk right in that building; I got my work clothes. I had my work clothes on every day I came out here wanting to go back to work.

BURBANK: It looks like he'll get his chance sooner rather than later, much to the relief of the city. Luke Burbank, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Luke Burbank
Luke Burbank is kind of amazed that NPR is letting him co-host its new morning show, The Bryant Park Project, NPR's new morning news show launched on October 1, 2007.