NEW YORK – A judge on Friday barred city transit workers from carrying out a threatened strike that would paralyze the city's mass transit system and strand 7 million daily riders.
Justice Jules Spodek ruled state law clearly bans strikes by public employees and said a walkout by the 34,000-member transit union would be "enormous, debilitating and destructive."
State officials had asked for the preliminary injunction, though union lawyer Arthur Schwartz insisted it was premature because the Transport Workers Union had not actually called a strike.
Schwartz said he was disappointed with the decision, which banned the union from "causing, instigating or inciting" a work stoppage, and hadn't decided whether to appeal.
The chief negotiator for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said, in light of the ruling, he believed there would not be a strike.
"My expectation is we will reach a settlement right at the table," Gary Dellaverson said. "I have no expectation of a strike. I truly believe, that now that the judge has issued his order, he's taken that issue off the table."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the decision reinforces the "drastic repercussions" striking union members would face.
The ruling was issued as the transportation authority and the union continued round-the-clock negotiations at a hotel, trying to avert a shutdown of the nation's largest public transportation system.
Union membership voted last week to authorize its leaders to call a strike if talks faltered. Their contract is due to expire at 12:01 a.m. Monday.
When the negotiations resumed Friday morning, union and transit leaders said they were far apart on wages, pension payments and the MTA's disciplinary policies. Dellaverson then that the parties spent most of the day talking about noneconomic issues "critically important" to the talks.
Preparing for a potential strike, Bloomberg bought a $500 mountain bike Friday and declared: "Nobody's going to shut down New York." Bloomberg, who travels by subway to work, promised to bike to City Hall in the event of a strike.
The union placed television commercials emphasizing members' concerns over safety and wages. Two subway workers were killed on duty last month, and the union claims the MTA has not properly ensured worker safety.
Under the state law barring public employee strikes, workers can be fine two days' pay for every day they are on strike. The court order banning the strike also subjects them to contempt citations and jail time.
The city also has sued separately from the state to impose penalties on the union for even talking about a walkout. Spodek's order did not go so far as to ban all discussion of a strike.
The union is seeking 6 percent annual raises over three years, while the MTA is offering no raise the first year and possible raises the following two years tied to productivity increases.
The MTA is facing a billion-dollar deficit this year and is contemplating a 50-cent increase from the current $1.50 fare.
The city's last strike, which lasted 11 days, was in 1980, when the buses and subways carried less than half the number of commuters it does today.