New York City's transit union called a selective strike against two private bus lines Friday, putting off a crippling citywide shutdown, as it rejected what the system later said was its final offer.
The union representing 33,000 workers reportedly planned to extend the strike to subways if there's no contract agreement with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority by 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, according to media reports.
"We tried to bargain with the MTA," Roger Toussaint, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, said Friday morning. "We negotiated well past our contract deadline because we wanted to get a deal done, and we still do."
The chairman of the public transit system, which carries nearly 7 million people daily on subways and buses, said hours later that management had made its best offer.
"There is no more," Peter Kalikow said. "Our offer that is out there is the best that we're going to come up with."
There was no immediate response from the union, and Kalikow said no talks were scheduled.
"We're ready to talk to them if they want," Kalikow said of union negotiators.
The statements from both sides raised doubt that New Yorkers could avoid a strike that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars per day in overtime and lost business and productivity.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said a strike next week "would be a lot worse than if a strike had taken place at midnight last night."
"It is the last full shopping week before Christmas, it would be really damaging to a lot of people," said Bloomberg. "A lot of people in this city work in industries where if the customers don't show, they don't have a job, they don't get paid."
He said he hoped the intent of a new deadline "is to bargain in good faith and not just to stall and try to get more leverage."
The millions of New Yorkers who rely on the transit system had been urged to make arrangements to car pool, bicycle and walk to work, or change their schedules and work from home in the case of a strike.
It was not immediately clear when the private bus strike was to begin; the lines, which have about 50,000 riders and 750 workers, had a "completely normal" morning rush, said spokesman Jamie Van Bramer.
Bloomberg said he understood the private buses might not run Friday evening. But Jamaica Bus Lines supervisor William Barrios said his local union representative told bus employees to keep working, at least for now.
"Unless everybody goes on strike ... the private lines are not going on strike first," Barrios said. "I'm scared about my job. I've been here 27 years."
George Jennings, vice chairman of the local union shop, said his members would be going out Monday at 12:01 a.m. "unless we are told by our union leadership not to."
State law prohibits a transit walkout, although Bloomberg said Friday that the two private bus lines are not under the law's jurisdiction.
Public bus and subway workers could lose two days' pay for every day of a strike and the city is asking for additional damages against individual workers: $25,000 for the first day of the walkout, doubling each day thereafter.
The original contract deadline was 12:01 a.m. Friday; bargaining occurred until about 4:30 a.m.
The MTA's latest offer included an increase in raises — 9 percent over three years. It had been offering 6 percent over 27 months. Besides wages, sticking points included pension rules and health benefits. Train operators, station agents and cleaners earn between $47,000 and $55,000 a year before overtime.
Straphangers expressed relief on Friday morning.
"I didn't sleep too well last night. I kept turning on the TV to see if they had settled," said Mary Marino, who arrived at Penn Station on Friday morning to connect with two subway trains for her job at a lower Manhattan nursing home.
"I thought there was a strong chance there would be a strike — which is why I got up at 5 a.m.," said Felix Lao-Batiz, 45, who lives in Upper Manhattan and was heading to Jersey City, where he works at a brokerage firm.
The last time New York had a transit strike was 1980, when subways and buses sat motionless for 11 days. Tens of thousands of people mounted bicycles, walked and embraced creative modes of transportation like boats, private helicopters and roller skates.
In 2002, the union and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority reached a deal hours after the contract deadline passed.