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23rd December

First Published in The New York Sun, December 23, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

The pointless, illegal strike by the Transport Workers Union is over. There was no gain won by the union that any rational person could point to, but a lot of pain for ordinary folks and for the city’s economy.As an example,the fellow who owns my local dry-cleaning establishment arrived at work late yesterday.

The contingency plan necessitated by the strike took what is normally a 15-minute commute from nearby Westchester into an hour-and-half nightmare. The New York Police Department set up a checkpoint at the city line, turning away cars with fewer than four passengers from entering the Henry Hudson Parkway. The police did not want to hear that the ultimate destination of the driver was the 232nd Street exit, well within the Bronx, and miles north of 96th Street in Manhattan.
This is how widespread the fallout of the strike has been. How else might the strike have impacted on the dry cleaner?

A number of customers arrived to drop off clothes for cleaning, only to find the store closed. I assume that they will return. But what will be lost is cleaning from a certain percentage of his customers who, I suspect, skipped work one or more days of the strike rather than fight their way into Manhattan. Not wearing their business attire, they probably lounged around in clothing that does not require dry cleaning. Perhaps, for argument’s sake, this resulted in a 5% decline in business. Who should pay?

My office is not far from the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale, which employs hundreds of people. Many of them use public transportation, and get off their buses just across the street from my office. Typically, these workers stop at the nearby bodega for coffee and a roll to bring with them to work, perhaps also buying a newspaper or a lottery ticket. If they made it into work, they didn’t get off at the bus stop. Consequently, the bodega reported a loss of $300 in sales during each day of the strike. This demonstrates the enormous negative potential of the illegal strike on the city’s economy. Business revenue is being lost in ways that we can’t even conceive of until it happens.

I also suspect that the gridlock resulting from the strike may have impacted on the public health in a negative way. Are there New Yorkers who didn’t receive essential medical care on a timely basis because they couldn’t travel to a health care facility? Or perhaps arriving only to find that critical staff members at the facility had not been able to get to work and provide needed services?

Have there been any ambulances delayed even for a few critical minutes, resulting in death or disability that in normal circumstances would have been avoided?

All this is exactly why the law proscribes transit workers from striking.The penalties under the law, which include a loss of two days pay for every day a worker is not on the job and fines to the union itself, are not even remotely enough to compensate New Yorkers for their economic losses, estimated to be in the hundreds of millions each day.

I am not an attorney, but it seems to me that the union, union leadership, and members could — even though a class action died in the Court of Appeals during an earlier transit strike — be liable for some of the losses resulting from their illegal actions. Now it may not pay for the bodega next door, or my dry cleaner, to sue individually, but what if the associations representing dry cleaning establishments or bodegas throughout the city were to file a class action lawsuit? What about the borough chambers of commerce or the New York City Partnership? Is it worth it to try, this time around, to go to the courts to seek to recover losses on behalf of their members?

If, God forbid, someone should die because an ambulance was late arriving, and it can be shown that there is a clear link to the events surrounding the strike, could the estate of such a person sue?

We live in a litigious society, and we know that much of this litigation is nonsense. But if awards are given to people who place cups of hot coffee between their legs, only to have their private parts burned when the coffee spills,why not compensate the bodega, which may have trouble paying rent, because of loss of revenue resulting from the illegal actions of the Transport Workers Union?

The other day I appeared on a “Reporters’ Roundtable”on Channel 2’s “Kirtzman and Company” television program and suggested that were there a strike, Roger Toussaint would be the “Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” Well, that’s the position he put himself in for reasons I still don’t fathom. Now that the strike is over, will there be an attempt to drag the Grinch into court, not just by the government, but by those who were harmed by him? An avalanche of lawsuits could have the welcome effect of dissuading future union leaders from calling the next illegal strike.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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