Union, New York City transit agency continue talks

Subways and buses kept rolling Friday after a marathon bargaining session at least temporarily delayed a strike on the New York transit system. Negotiations that began late Thursday night between the Transport Workers Union and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority broke up around 4:30 a.m. (0930 GMT). There was no word from either side, but the union was planning to make an announcement.

Workers had threatened to walk off the job if no deal was reached by 12:01 a.m. (0501 GMT). A strike would paralyze the nation's largest transportation system at the height of the holiday season, and leave commuters to walk, bike, car pool or work from home. About 7 million people use the transit system each day. Subway riders were relieved they could still get around, despite the uncertainty of the talks.

"I took a roll of the dice," said Janett Pabon, who emerged from Penn Station early Friday after leaving work. "We hadn't heard anything either way." City officials were poised to put contingency plans in effect if workers did walk off the job. Preparing for potential rush hour chaos, Mayor Michael Bloomberg went to an emergency command center overnight. In the event of a strike, commuters were urged to car pool, bicycle, walk to work or work from home.

"We are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst," Bloomberg said. Companies also were making contingency plans. Some told employees to telecommute; others arranged for vans and ferries to get their workers to the office. Transit workers are barred by state law from striking. The workers could lose two days' pay for every day on strike, and the city is seeking much larger damages against the union and its individual members.

Thursday, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Peter Kalikow suggested that an arbitrator might be the best person to help reach a deal, a statement that infuriated the union.

The union's president was not optimistic before the deadline. "As of this moment we have no progress to report and that's not good because we have precious little time left before the deadline approaches," said Roger Toussaint, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, said, reports the AP. N.U.

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