All is right with the world. Within minutes of the announced transit settlement, George Pataki was on CNN trying to turn his handling of the strike into a presidential audition. Mike Bloomberg was back to being Mike Bloomberg, praising transit workers whose leaders he’d called thugs two days earlier. The MTA was suggesting that the strike-provoking pension issue was still on the table, though everyone in the city instantly understood that Peter Kalikow’s last-minute, $20-million demand was as dead as the bus yards in East New York have been since Tuesday morning.
The headline that stretched across the entire front page of the Times on Wednesday said: “City Scrambles as Union Is Hit With Big Fine.” Right underneath it was a headline on the evolution court decision that reported: “Issuing Rebuke, Judge Rejects Teaching of Intelligent Design.” It could just as well have been the headline on the judge’s ruling in the transit case, since there was clearly no intelligent design at this bargaining table. Why would a bottom line billionaire mayor who likes to run his government as if he were still CEO of Bloomberg LP defend an MTA that took a strike costing the city $400 million a day to win a pension savings of $20 million over three years? Even a closely held corporation like Bloomberg might dump a CEO who saw that as a winning gambit.
The pundits have contended that the $20 million cause of the strike was a pittance to both sides and that neither should have allowed it to spark such pain. But a six percent slice out of a puny starting salary for new transit workers for the first ten years of their employment is no pittance to those union workers. It is a pittance to the governor, who’s handed out billions and billions in cost of living and other pension giveaways, and to the mayor, who spent that much in the final month of his mayoral campaign. Dropping that stink bomb on the table a couple of hours before midnight Monday was an act of such colossal gall and incompetence that no editorial board or public official should even attempt to justify it.
While the earlier MTA attempt to change the retirement age from 55 to 62 might arguably be a meaningful step towards corralling state and city pension costs, as unfair as it was to impose it on a single union, Kalikow’s six-point move gained virtually nothing and risked catastrophe. Thankfully, this will be the farewell contract for the Gang That Couldn’t Bargain Straight, since Kalikow is returning to the family real estate business he already bankrupted and Pataki is on his way to his New Hampshire dream.