Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Expensive Way to Make a Point 

New York is in a transit strike. The municipal union is learning that such job actions are an expensive way to make a point.

Strikes in the US are not the same as those in Italy, for example. While we were in Rome over Thanksgiving, government workers suddenly struck on a Friday morning and shut the country's transportation down. They came back to work by noon. The wildcat strike communicated to the government that the union didn't like a proposed budget, and it was a show of force as well. Italian transit unions know they can paralyze Italy.

In New York, transit strikes are taken more seriously, and they come at the end of prolonged bargaining. There are few sudden job actions. The difference appears to be what the public will tolerate. US commuters do not take kindly to inconvenience.

A US transit strike is a last-resort act of defiance. Elected officials do not take such defiance gently, and the public appears to be on the officials' side. Put another way, transit unions appear to have lost the public relations battle. That makes possible the huge fines they are getting from an unsympathetic court. Perhaps the transit unions will learn from this that one needs public backing before walking off the job.


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