Thursday, December 22, 2005

Scorched Earth Strike: May As Well Go Bankrupt

The press coverage this morning across the board suggests the TWU is in trouble. The union is being fined $1 million a day, a judge is threatening to throw the leaders into jail for contempt, the city has gone to court to get larger fines levied against individual workers that would come out of their pockets, not union coffers, and editorial boards and talking heads across the city are talking about what a disaster Toussaint has created for himself and his members.

So what's a striking union leader to do when the shit has really hit the fan and everything looks blackest? According to the Director of Urban Research at the CUNY Grad Center, Toussaint could keep the union out on strike for a long period of time, hoping to force the MTA's hand through scorched earth warfare:

With the fine against the union growing by $1 million each day, Mr. Toussaint may well hope to shoot the moon, reasoning that the financial penalties might grow so large, and bankruptcy so certain, that his union might just as well stay out for 30 days as for 3.

Or, as John H. Mollenkopf, the director of the Center for Urban Research at the City University Graduate Center, put it, "The union recognizes that there is no difference between unbearable fines and doubly unbearable ones."


By no means is everything lost for Mr. Toussaint and the union, Mr. Feinstein said.

"There are any number of honorable exits for him, but the first thing he has to do is get back to the bargaining table," Mr. Feinstein said.

Many labor experts say the best opportunity to reach a settlement is over the next few days. If the work stoppage drags on for more than a week, union leaders, already facing union bankruptcy, may feel they have little more to lose, and union members, facing large fines, may believe that the longer they stay out the more likely they will somehow win amnesty, reducing the fines.

Perhaps this is the best strategy for Toussaint if the MTA won't give on the pension concession demands.

Kalikow called Toussaint's remarks yesterday at a press conference that the union would return to work if the MTA took pension concessions off the table "outrageous, " which seems to indicate the MTA (and the real powers behind the board, Bloomberg and Pataki), won't give on the pension concession demands.

At least not right away.

But after 15 or 18 days of a strike that starts to shaves a few zeroes off the GDP ($400 million a day x 15 days = lots of trouble for Bloomberg, Pataki, et al.), I bet they'd be a little less adamant about the pension concession demands.

I'm not sure the union can actually hold out that long.

I'm not sure they should hold out that long.

But if the Bloomberg/Pataki position is that they won't give on anything in the negotiations now that the TWU is on strike, or worse, demand an end to the strike before they'll return to negotiations, perhaps a scorched earth strike strategy is the best tactical response for the union.

Stay out long-term, declare bankruptcy (just like the airlines and other red-blooded American coporations who want to avoid paying their debts!), and force Bloomberg and Pataki to deal with the strike fall-out for a month or more.

And let's face it, bankruptcy has worked really, really well for Delta, United, American, Continental (Pension responsibilities? What pension responsibilities?)...

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