The Bloomberg/Pataki position that no talks will resume until the Transport Workers Union returns to work flies in the face of city history. Former Labor Commissioner Robert Linn could not recall any city strike that had ever ended without a negotiated settlement, adding that “it was clearly not the Koch point of view that we should never negotiate with a union that’s on strike.”
Linn, who was at Ed Koch’s side during the 1980 transit strike, recalled two other strikes that occurred while he handled labor negotiations for City Hall, involving the Committee on Interns and Residents and nurses in public hospitals. Linn said the city negotiated with the unions each time, recalling that “it was Mayor Koch’s position” that MTA chair Richard Ravitch and TWU president John Lawe “remain in a room and never go out until they settled.” Linn says that should be the city and MTA policy now: “My position is that both parties need to come together immediately.”
“To say that we will not negotiate,” says Linn, “must mean that the city expects the union to capitulate soon. If that’s the strategy, how long a strike will this be?” Linn listed a half dozen city strikes that occurred prior to the Koch years that ended with settlements, but would not eliminate the possibility that a union may have returned without a contract in a prior labor dispute. “Occasionally strikes break down,” he said. But he was unaware of any time in city labor history when it was mayoral policy “not to meet until the workers come back.”
Ironically, Mayor Bloomberg has consciously adopted the style and rhetoric of Brooklyn Bridge Koch in the current strike, while rejecting the Koch talk-at-all-times position that ultimately resolved it.