Santa didn't get third-railed after all.
Just in time for Christmas, New York City's venerable subways squealed back to life and the buses trundled from their depots after leaders of Transport Workers Union Local 100 voted Thursday to end their three-day strike -- even without a contract settlement with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Though buoyed by the good news, New Yorkers struggled through another monstrous evening commute. Some buses were rolling again late Thursday afternoon, but the subways needed an estimated 10- to 18-hour period to return to service and were expected to be back at full strength by Friday afternoon's rush period.
So the first transit strike in a quarter-century -- with its commuter chaos and traffic-choked roadways, grim and muttering New Yorkers and bitter mudslinging, frozen zones, HOV-4 restrictions and police roadblocks -- ended.
City Comptroller William Thompson said the economic impact of the strike was closing in on $1 billion. City officials said the strike cost $10 million a day in overtime, and an estimated $12 million in sales tax revenue was lost.
The union executive board's vote followed hours of early-morning negotiations involving state mediators and the two sides. The transportation agency and the union had seemed hopelessly divided over proposed changes to the pension plan.
"We have suggested, and they have agreed, to resume negotiations while the TWU takes steps toward returning its membership to work," Richard Curreri, a mediator with the state Public Employment Relations Board, said shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday.
About three hours later, Local 100's executive board voted 36-5, with two abstentions, to end the strike and return to work immediately while continuing negotiations with the MTA. City officials said they planned to lift strike restrictions at midnight Thursday.
The contract dispute is not over, however. Curreri said the MTA has not withdrawn the controversial pension proposal, which evidently spurred union officials to call the strike.
"While these discussions have been fruitful, an agreement remains out of the parties' reach at this time," Curreri said. "It is clear to us, however, that both sides have a genuine desire to resolve their differences."
The two sides agreed to a "media blackout," Curreri said, because leaks to reporters had hurt the talks. "It's an emotionally charged situation," he said.
Just before 3 p.m., amid cheers from workers, TWU president Roger Toussaint thanked riders for their patience, but said little more. The TWU had never gone on strike and then returned to work without a contract.
Even board members received limited details, and the union leader faced backlash from some who charged he had given up bargaining leverage.
George Mooney, an executive board member, said Toussaint would say only, "You have to trust me on this one."
"We got nothing out of this, absolutely nothing," said George Pearlstein, a board member who voted against the deal.
In the top tiers of government, relief was palpable. "I think that in the end, cooler heads prevailed," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "It wasn't easy and economic hardship was inflicted, but we did what we had to do to keep the city running."
After coming under fire for referring to union leaders as "thuggish," Bloomberg tried to clarify the remark. "I described the behavior of the union leadership, which hurt this city, and have been careful to save my criticism for the leadership of the union and I stand by everything that I said," he said. "I have said positive things about the rank-and-file; you can check the transcript."
State Supreme Court Justice Theodore Jones suspended court proceedings in the contempt case against the union until Jan. 20. "I want these negotiations to take place in an atmosphere in which the court is not perceived to be influential to either side," he said.
The union is likely to face fines of up to $3 million -- $1 million for each day of the strike. Under the state's Taylor Law banning strikes by public employees, each worker could lose up to six days' pay for the three-day strike.
This story was reported by Lindsay Faber, Ray Sanchez, Herbert Lowe, Rocco Parascandola, Michael Rothfeld, Erik German, Melanie Lefkowitz, Dan Janison and Graham Rayman. It was written by Rayman.
Copyright © 2005, Newsday, Inc.