Tuesday, December 20, 2005

NY Transit Strike- Not Impressed by Bloomie

Empty cupboards courtesy of Operation Blessing.

People are walking across the Brooklyn Bridge to work, long distances in weather that's 10 degrees below freezing with wind chills that bring it closer to zero. Emergency travel restrictions mean that no cars can enter the city over the bridges with less than four passengers. The backups to the bridges, since police have to check each vehicle, are hours long.

We had one rush hour before 5am, one happening now, and there must be another coming. Schools are delayed and people can't get to work. Delivery trucks can't get through, so all normal operations and mail are interrupted. In a city with no storage space, every bit of inventory operates on a "just in time" basis. This means no groceries are coming, no fresh food for restaurants, no hospital supplies, much less your drycleaning or the normal supplies for businesses. This is, by reports of people who were here to see it, worse congestion and gridlock than the last transit strike in 1980. It's taken people in cars an hour to go five blocks. A friend's company says they'll start running private charter buses for employees if this continues, but just getting them into the city will be the trick. And of course, parking regulations are all emergencied-up, too, to make it hard for people to drive themselves in and block the streets. Where are you going to put fleets of private buses? They'll have to circle the streets all night, stopping only for gas.

Bloomie's early morning outdoorsy interview while he walked had him giving some mealy-mouthed talk about walking or taking bicycles in "crisp weather". Crisp? Near zero. He's trying so hard no to freak out the tourists who should be bailing out (or should have already) that he sounds like a fool who doesn't get how serious it is. He said he wished the union had been more responsible and that the courts (via a statute against strikes for public employees like cops and firemen) would now impose "severe" penalties. "Nobody wins" in a situation like this. It makes him sound like he thinks it just happened to occur. He hasn't made any really tough statements throughout negotiations, and he doesn't sound perturbed now, even if we know he ought to be.

It was about 5 years ago when conEd in Chicago blacked out and literally blew up its electrical service in the heat of summer, again. Daley the younger went apoplectic. His face was purple with rage and he spat out, without cursing, how unacceptable it was to have old people frying in their homes due to infrastructure neglect. The CEO lost his job. The grid got back up. But I remember what a difference it made to people that he understood how bad it was. Granted, I never saw him take such a tone with the unions, because every mayor has to deal, everyone must kowtow, but we didn't have situations like this unfold either. Maybe the back channel's more effective.

For Bloomie to act like tourists shouldn't leave in real fear that they will be absolutely screwed is irresponsible. Oh yes, there's so much to do in New York. Except when the actors can't get to their shows and the food can't get to the tables and the staff can't get to the hotels. Sounds like a ball. And how are tourists supposed to escape to the airports with 500 people competing for every cab?

Interviews with people on the street, especially a carful of teachers from the hugely problematic local teachers union, showed people saying they, the transit workers "have a right to strike" (actually they don't via the Taylor law, thus the court-ordered penalties), and showed a few people who were mad. Meanwhile, the picketing transit workers reply this is about the survival of their kids at home. Really?! One stinking percent into a pension fund accompanied by raises for each of the next three years and gold-plated health care puts the survival of your kids in jeopardy? Well, the carful of teachers haven't made it to class, and parents of other schoolkids who matter less than the transit workers' may not be able to drop them.

If this goes on for any length of time, operations will drain their inventory reserves, working people will be without cash in pocket, and this city will be a disaster zone. Today, you can't get on or off Manhattan freely. You're trapped. Police are on overtime, 12-hour shifts, and all their days off are cancelled. I don't know how they're going to keep the peace when there's no food on the shelves and no schools and supplies. I already had a car reserved, at usurious holiday rates, to get me out of town to Pennsylavania for Christmas. Now, I'm worried about whether it will still be there, or whether I'll be allowed back onto the island without hitchikers and whether I'll be able to get to my plane to Vegas the day after.

Merry freaking Christmas from the isle of Mirth.

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