Dec. 19, 2005--As New York braces for a potential transit strike that officials say could cost the city's economy up to $400 million a day, the small businesses that rely on the subway as a lifeline expect to take one of the hardest hits.
Many of the city's 468 subway stations contain newsstands, barbershops, and shoeshine stands. In interviews at Grand Central Station, Times Square, Columbus Circle, Union Square, and 86th Street and Lexington Avenue, small businesses in the underground stations said they hoped to avoid the loss of workdays that a strike would force.
"I would have no choice but to go home," said Tariq Sheikh, behind the booth of one of his four newsstands in the Columbus Circle station. "How are we going to survive if we have to feed our families and pay the bills?"
Vibhuti Tas, who runs a newsstand in Grand Central Station, expressed displeasure with both parties involved -- union leaders and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state-run agency that oversees the nation's largest transit system. But he was mostly worried about commuters and his store. "There are arguments for both sides," Tas said. "But I know that if you strike, the public suffers." The businesses within the subway stations operate on permits given by the MTA.
The MTA and the Transit Workers Union, which represents 34,000 members, remained in negotiations on Monday. The union has set a 12:01 a.m. Tuesday deadline for a new contract. Its drivers on two private bus lines in Queens walked away from their jobs on Monday, and the union has threatened that the rest of its employees will strike on Tuesday if a deal isn't reached.
The MTA has argued that pension and health-care costs will create a deficit by 2008, and has demanded changes in the pension system for new transit workers. The MTA's offer has called for a 9% wage increase over three years and a raise in the retirement age for new hires, from 55 to 62. The union, however, has called for a higher pay increase and has refused to accept different benefits packages for future workers.
Sudhir Patel, the owner of seven newsstands throughout the city's subway system, tried to call the union's bluff. "Let them go on strike and we'll see what happens," Patel said. "The workers are not overpaid, but they don't need a pay increase." He said that his stores would be able to quickly bounce back, because his goods, which are mostly candy, magazines, and snacks, have a long shelf life.
The city's economy could lose $400 million on the first day of a transit workers strike and $250 million each weekday after that, according to estimates by the New York City Comptroller, which is an independent elected office. The city's gross daily product, on which the comptroller's office based its estimate, is roughly $1.5 billion a day.
A drop in work productivity and interruptions in normal work routines would cause most of the losses, according to the comptroller's office. Approximately 7 million people use New York's transit system every day.
While it's uncertain exactly how much impact the strike would actually have, officials say the projected losses could just be made up in the long run, as workers stranded at home by the strike use the Internet or work on what would have been personal days.