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Tension over a possible public transportation strike mounted Monday, as attorneys for the New York City transit workers took pre-emptive legal action in an attempt to limit what the city can do to prevent a shutdown. On Friday, attorneys for the Transport Workers Union of Greater New York, Local 100, sought injunctive relief against the Metropolitan Transit Authority in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, saying they were responding to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s public threat of legal action to halt a strike. Their request, which sought to block the city from relying on a broad temporary restraining order and what the attorneys called “hit and run” legal tactics, was removed to federal court early yesterday afternoon after a motion by the city. Mayor Bloomberg has warned of severe penalties if transit workers strike — an act he said would cripple the city’s subways and buses, and clog streets with cars and emergency vehicles, leading to deaths. When a strike seemed possible three years ago, the city under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani obtained a temporary restraining order that prevented transit workers from “engaging in any action, attempted act, either written or oral which has the intent, purpose or effect to encourage or support employees of the [New York City Transit Authority] to engage in a work stoppage.” The order also called for $25,000 fines, doubled with each offense, to workers who violated the order, as well as a $1 million fine to the union on the first day of a strike, with that figure doubling each day after. Attorneys for the union say that the restraining order, signed by then-Supreme Court Justice Michael Pesce, violated the freedom-of-speech and right-to-assemble clauses of the New York State Constitution, as well as the Taylor Law, which bars public employees from striking and says “no public employee or employee organization shall cause, instigate, encourage, or condone a strike.” “A threat to strike, standing alone, does not violate the no-strike provisions of the Taylor Law,” according to papers filed by Arthur Z. Schwartz of Kennedy, Schwartz & Cure, which represents the NYCTA workers’ union. He said the Taylor Law allows the city to seek relief when a strike is “imminent,” and added that any “early foray into the courts” would “have only one purpose: to muzzle transit workers’ free speech rights over the next week under the guise of preventing a strike.” The papers added that such “draconian” steps by the city would undercut the union’s ability to bargain. Southern District Judge William H. Pauley III, presiding over a late afternoon hearing, said that although he recognized the workers had “a fear of history repeating itself,” he felt there was a serious question as to whether an actual case or controversy exists before the court. Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo, who appeared for the city, said the “threshold” issue cited by the judge was one that “we don’t think the plaintiffs can overcome.” Cardozo also questioned claims that the city might try to prevent transit workers from supporting a strike, noting that the workers voted unanimously over the weekend to authorize a strike if talks with the MTA do not result in a contract by Sunday. In 1999, attorneys for transit workers appealed the restraining order to the Appellate Division, 2nd Department, but the court dismissed the matter as moot after a new contract was agreed upon. The union said it spent $500,000 when Justice Pesce required them to overnight mail the restraining order to each of its 34,000 NYCTA members. Judge Pauley, who said he is currently presiding over a copyright trial between private litigants, ordered both sides to submit papers addressing the “case and controversy” question by 5 p.m. Tuesday. He said he would hear arguments on the matter this afternoon and set further dates as necessary. Earlier Monday, Mayor Bloomberg outlined a contingency plan in the event of a strike. Measures would include restricting the number of passengers in cars, reserving some streets for emergency vehicles, and allowing taxis to pick up multiple fares.

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