New Yorkers face the spector of empty offices, closed shops, record traffic jams and long walks as negotiations on a new transit workers contract heads toward a Friday midnight deadline.
The 1966 strike by bus and subway workers crippled the city for 12 days and cost millions in lost business and paychecks. Every workday 4.5 million people ride in the subways and buses.
Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) called it a national crisis, saying: "Do you realize that small merchants in Phoenix, Ariz., are going to be denied shipments of needed goods because people can't get to work in New York?"
The citys' traffic commissioner proclaimed that New York broke the record for the longest rush hour in history, 6 1/2 hours. Then-Mayor John Lindsay gave pep talks over the radio, President Johnson sent his labor secretary to try to help and the Transport Workers Union Leader, Mike Quill, was ordered to jail for defying a court order to end the strike.
Quill, who loved the spotlight and was found of saying of the cliff-hanging negotiations, "I've never had so much fun with my clothes on," is dead and Lindsay is out of politics, but the memory of the strike is vivid.
Mayor Edward Koch, Gov. Hugh Carey and Quill's successor as head of the Transport Workers Union, Mathew Guinan all have issued public statements expressing "optimism."
The problem is that the workers are not going to settle for nothing after three years with only small cost-of-living raises and the city and state don't have money to give them.
"We've got to shake a little money loose from the city, the state and the federal government," Guinan said.
His opposite number, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Harold Fisher, agrees that funds for workers' pay increases have to come from increased subsidies to the transportation system. In the next fiscal yer, and estimated gap of $48 million will have to be made up by new subsidies or a fare increase.
Fisher has pledged to save the 50-crent fare, at least until the end of the year. He neglects to explain that one reason saving the fare is more important this year than next might be that Fisher's close friend, Gov. Hugh Carety, is running for reelection this year.
In 1966, the fare was 15 cents. It was raised to help pay the costs of the settlement that followed the strike.
Guinan says the average bus or sub way worker makes $13,733 plus $3,359 in overtime. The union claims that its 33,000 workers need a 17.8 percent wage increase simply to restore their 1974 purchasing power. They are asking for substantially more.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has a second headache. Its contract with the Long Island Railroad Trainmen's Union expires simultaneously with the transit workers' and the trainmen are talking tough.
Union President Raymond Mills said last weekend that a strike on the heavily traveled commuter railroad appears inevitable.
One of the transportation workers powerful weapons in past negotiations has been their "no contract, no work" tradition. Its members reaffirmed that tradition yesterday, voting to call a strike at midnight Friday.
Koch wrote to Carey recently raising the possibility of calling out the National Guard to drive buses in the event of a strike, but governor turned him down. Carey, who keeps in daily touch with the negotiations, said he would not use the guard.
Although the transportation authority is supported by the state as well as the city, New York's 50 municipal unions are watching the transportation talks closely. The other unions' contracts don't expire until June 30, but they already have begun fractious negotiations with city officials. They are not likely to settle for less that what the transportation workers get.
A 1 percent increase for bus and subway workers would cost the transportation authority $8.1 million. The same raise for the more numerous municipal workers would cost the impoverished city about $40 million.
Negotiators for both sides have taken rooms in the New York Hilton and will remain there while a three member mediation panel carries messages back and forth during the week in the effort to keep the 4,500 buses and 6,200 subway cars rolling.
One of the mediators, Joseph E. O'Grady, was head of the transportation authority during the 1966 strike. When he retired, O'Grady was asked why the strike that inconvenienced millions happened.
"It's a shame that it occurred," he replied. "I'm not too sure why it did occur. Whether we could have prevented it, I don't know."