1980 New York City transit strike

A 1980 transit strike in New York City halted service on the New York City Transit Authority (a subsidiary of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority) for the first time since 1966. Around 33,000 members of Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 walked off their jobs on April 1, 1980, in a strike with the goal of increasing the wage for contracted workers. All subway and bus lines in the five boroughs of New York City were brought to a complete standstill for twelve days. The strike was resolved on April 11.


The transit workers' contract was up for renewal in April 1980. Negotiations began on February 4, with the TWU initially demanding a 21-month contract with a 30% wage increase; they justified the hike by claiming that the cost of living had gone up 53% since the last contract negotiation, and their contract did not account for changes in the cost of living.[1] The negotiations were extremely confrontational. The MTA got a court writ prohibiting the workers from striking, but the TWU announced their intention to violate the writ should the negotiations fail.[2] The MTA responded on March 31 with a proposal of a 34-month contract with a 3% wage increase each year.[1] Negotiations failed early the next morning, and 33,000 workers walked off their jobs.[3]

In response, the city implemented drastic plans to curb urban traffic. Most significant was a mandatory carpool restriction, in which cars were not allowed to enter the Manhattan central business district during rush hour without at least three passengers.[4][5] Mass transit riders "scrambled" to find taxis, while some passengers roller-skated, rowed boats, or flew helicopters to work. The first day of the strike, April 1, saw 83% of commuters going to work, compared to 94% on an average day.[6] Residents of transit-deprived parts of New York City started a share taxi service with minibuses and their own private vehicles. These "dollar vans", which charged a dollar per passenger per ride, still operate.[7][8] Commuters were seen bringing around jogging or exercise clothing so they could walk, jog, or bike to and from work. Additionally, the City University of New York canceled classes at three of its campuses as a result of the strike. Workers in the manufacturing and health industries were the most affected by the strike, as they were less likely to be able to afford taxis and other alternative modes of transport.[9]

Complicating the matter, workers for the Long Island Rail Road, another MTA subsidiary, went on strike on April 2. This was actually the LIRR's second strike in four months,[10] with the first one having occurred in December 1979.[11] This strike also revolved around a lack of pay.[10] Because of the strike, the remaining operating transit agencies in the area, Conrail and PATH, had increased ridership, and bridges and tunnels into Manhattan saw more vehicular traffic than usual.[6]

By April 4, the fourth day of the strike, the MTA and the workers were deadlocked, and the agency sought to fine the unions $3 million per day in damages.[12] A court hearing was held to determine whether the workers were actually striking, and thus subject to fines.[13] Three days later, the MTA and the workers were preparing for another round of negotiations.[14] The unions softened their demand for a wage raise.[15] On April 9, a New York State Supreme Court justice fined the unions a total of $1 million for striking during the past eight days.[16]

The MTA reached separate agreements with the LIRR and the NYCTA unions on April 11.[17] The next day, the workers went back to work.[18] The TWU won a 9% raise in the first year and 8% in the second year, along with a cost-of-living adjustment.[9]

Mayor Ed Koch became a very popular and visible figure to the commuting public. He was widely seen crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, near New York City Hall, with the masses of people commuting on foot, famously asking people "How'm I doing?"[19] He took a hard line against the strike, saying, "I think what the public is saying is, 'Don't give in to strikes and threats.'"[20] This was contrasted with the actions of Mayor John Lindsay during the 1966 strike. While Lindsay had asked most workers to stay home, Koch actively cheered on commuters who walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.[9]


The population of Manhattan is said to have increased by 500,000 people during the strike, primarily corporate employees staying in hotel rooms.[9] Bicycle commutes were popular; they were estimated to have increased by 200,000 people.[21][22] This was attributed to the warm spring weather that was present when the strike occurred.[22] During the strike, the city lost approximately $2 million a day in taxes and another $1 million a day in overtime expenses for city employees.[9] Companies in the private sector lost approximately $100 million per day,[22] on top of a total of $75 million to $100 million of lost income.[9] Job absenteeism was estimated to be between 15 and 20 percent.

The "sneaker brigade:" women commuters entering and migrating across Manhattan, who continued office jobs during the strike, switched from heels to athletic sneakers with short cotton socks, to walk from the Port Authority Bus terminal and Grand Central Station and across the bridges and down the avenues. This practical fashion accommodation persisted after the strike, even when mass transit resumed.[23][24][25][26]

After the strike, NYCTA fares were increased from 50 cents to 60 cents in order to offset the heavy losses suffered by the MTA during the strike.[27]

The Taylor Law, passed after the 1966 strike, specifically forbids any public union from going on strike.[28][29] The striking workers were fined $1.25 million and the union lost dues check-off rights for four months.[30] The strike was thus unsuccessful, as it resulted in a net negative impact for the unions.[31] They did not strike again until 2005.[32]

In an unrelated strike in summer 1980, PATH employees went on strike for 81 days.[33] It was one of the longest strikes in the PATH's history.[34]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "M.T.A.'S FIRST OFFER FOR TRANSIT RAISES FAR BELOW DEMAND; UNION RESPONSE IS 'NEGATIVE' Authority Is Reportedly Proposing 3.5% Annual Pay Increase-- Counteroffer Is Expected Offer by M.T.A. Far Below Level Unions Demand Union Response Expected" (PDF). The New York Times. March 31, 1980. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  2. ^ "M.T.A. Gets Writ Barring Strike, But Union Chiefs Plan to Defy It; Ravitch Discounts Proposal M.T.A. Obtains Court Injunction Against a Strike Possible Fines and Imprisonment" (PDF). The New York Times. March 29, 1980. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  3. ^ "TRANSIT WORKERS STRIKE SUBWAYS AND BUSES AS WAGE TALKS FAIL; L.I.R.R. PARLEY CONTINUES; MILLIONS FACE DELAYS Walkout Called Two Hours After Deadline--Court Injunction Ignored Five Million Rides a Day Transit Unions Go on Strike As Talks on Wages Collapse Fare Increase Likely Scene at Bargaining Table" (PDF). The New York Times. April 1, 1980. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  4. ^ "Plans for Travel in the Metropolitan Area During a Transit Strike; By Car TRAFFIC RULES PARKING RULES PARKING AREAS MANHATTAN (Municipal areas) CAR-POOL AREAS RENDEZVOUS AREAS By Bicycle By Ferry By Bus By Taxi By Rail CONRAIL LI.R.R. PATH AND OTHER LINES From Car Pools to Bike Lanes Phone Numbers" (PDF). The New York Times. April 1, 1980. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  5. ^ "Emergency Transit Plans Set in Case of April Strike; No One-Person Cars in Midtown 2,000 Extra Traffic Police Hotels in Midtown Are Booked" (PDF). The New York Times. March 19, 1980. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  6. ^ a b "NO TALKS SCHEDULED; State Takes Transit Union to Court Over Breach of Taylor Law Writ 'Crunch Will Be Coming' City's Pace Is Smooth as Strike Begins Fewer Cars From Jersey Empty Lots for Car Pools A Scramble for Cabs Waiting for a Passenger" (PDF). The New York Times. April 2, 1980. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  7. ^ Santos, Fernanda (June 10, 2010). "Licensed and Illegal Vans Battle It Out in New York". The New York Times. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  8. ^ Reiss, Aaron. "New York's Shadow Transit". The New Yorker. Retrieved October 14, 2015.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Chan, Sewell (April 4, 2005). "25 Years Ago, Subways and Buses Stopped Running". The New York Times. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  10. ^ a b "RAIL STATIONS EMPTY; Many of Line's Commuters Stay Home--Locals Face Injunctions Stations Virtually Deserted Strike Halts L.I.R.R. Service But Most Riders Stay Home Unions Put Forth an Offer Carter Ordered Cooling-Off" (PDF). The New York Times. April 2, 1980. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  11. ^ Stetson, Damon (December 8, 1979). "L.I.R.R. Halted As Its Trainmen Declare a Strike". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  12. ^ "TALKS ARE CURTAILED; Contempt Hearings Take Precedence City Is Seeking Damages Damages for Overtime Both Sides Hew To Tough Lines In Transit Talks Back to the 6% Line $3 Million a Day in Damages" (PDF). The New York Times. April 4, 1980. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  13. ^ "Court Hearing Seeks to Prove Strike Exists; Unions' Contention Union Leaders Waive Right Figures Cited, Then Challenged" (PDF). The New York Times. April 6, 1980. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  14. ^ "Commuters Expecting Jams Today; Major Effort to End Strike Planned; Storm After the Lull Commuters Expect Jams In Transit Strike Today Mediator Halls a 'Good Sign' M.T.A. Holds to Proposal A Question of Sincerity" (PDF). The New York Times. April 7, 1980. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  15. ^ "T.W.U. Board Is Said to Cut Demand for 15% Wage Rise; Smoother Flow Than Expected Transit Union Reported To Cut Demand for Raise Paterson Not Sounded Out" (PDF). The New York Times. April 8, 1980. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  16. ^ "LAWE STILL DEFIANT; Won't Order T.W.U. Back 2d Union's Chiefs Call for a Return Amalgamated Ordered Back 2 Transit Unions Fined $1 Million For Defying Injunction in Strike The 1966 Strike Recalled" (PDF). The New York Times. April 9, 1980. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  17. ^ "MAIL VOTE IS PLANNED; Koch Objects to 20% Raise in Contract L.I.R.R. Pact Is Announced Subways and Buses Running Attempt to Save Fare T.W.U. Leader Orders End To Strike After Board Splits What the Pact Includes Vote by M.T.A. Board PATH Walkout Postponed" (PDF). The New York Times. April 12, 1980. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  18. ^ "Transit System Rolls Amid Debate On Contract and Fate of 50 Fare; Fare Outlook Is Gloomy CITY TRANSIT ROLLS AS PACT IS DEBATED Union Is Deeply Divided Hearing on New Penalties Put Off Savings in 'Break' Time" (PDF). The New York Times. April 13, 1980. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  19. ^ "How Would Dinkins Have Done, Had He Come After Giuliani?". New York. January 17–24, 2011.
  20. ^ "Still a Union Town? Transit Strike Politics Mirror The Climate of A Changed City" (PDF). The New York Times. April 6, 1980. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  21. ^ Schwartz, Samuel I. (August 18, 2015). Street Smart: The Rise of Cities and the Fall of Cars. PublicAffairs. ISBN 9781610395656.
  22. ^ a b c Kennedy, Randy (December 12, 2002). "THE TRANSIT SHOWDOWN: HISTORY; 22 Years After the Last Transit Strike, Familiar Doldrums and Grievances". The New York Times. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  23. ^ https://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-features/moment-44-work-shift-3346224/
  24. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/04/nyregion/25-years-ago-subways-and-buses-stopped-running.html
  25. ^ https://www.myplainview.com/news/article/NYC-Transit-Threat-Recalls-1980-Strike-8894140.php
  26. ^ https://www.wsj.com/articles/no-more-sweatpants-what-well-wear-post-pandemic-11590166062
  27. ^ "60-Cent Transit Fare Takes Effect; Smaller Subway Tokens Go on Sale; Long Lines for New Tokens 64-Cent Fare Takes Effect; Smaller Tokens Go on Sale Other Measures Approved Lower Fares Available To Some Conrail Riders Disagreement on Bus Pass" (PDF). The New York Times. June 28, 1980. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  28. ^ "The City; Fines Are Upheld For Transit Strike". The New York Times. July 15, 1981. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  29. ^ Worth, Robert F. (December 13, 2002). "THE TRANSIT SHOWDOWN: THE TAYLOR LAW; A Powerful Tool to Use Against Striking Employees". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  30. ^ "$250,000 Added To Unions' Fines For Transit Strike; Judge Seeks to Discourage New Municipal Tie-Ups An Example Intended Strike Threat Deplored Union Will Appeal" (PDF). The New York Times. July 3, 1980. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  31. ^ Government Employee Relations Report. Bureau of National Affairs. 1986. p. 1729. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  32. ^ Steinhauer, Jennifer (December 21, 2005). "Citywide Strike Halts New York Subways and Buses". The New York Times. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  33. ^ Herman, Robin (September 1, 1980). "PATH Trains, Idle 81 Days in Strike, Rolling Again; Electrical Gear Affected". The New York Times. Retrieved June 15, 2018.
  34. ^ Associated Press (August 28, 1980). "Tentative settlement reached on PATH strike" (PDF). Nyack Journal News. p. 1. Retrieved June 15, 2018 – via Fultonhistory.com.

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