New York City transit workers strike for fairer economic contract terms, 2005


To negotiate a contract with better wages and pension terms for the MTA's subway and bus operators in the 5 boroughs

Time period notes

During the holiday season, a peak tourist season for NYC

Time period

December 20, 2005, 2005 to December 22 2005, 2005


United States

Location City/State/Province

New York City

Location Description

New York City (5 boroughs)
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 1st segment

Methods in 2nd segment

Methods in 3rd segment

Methods in 4th segment

Methods in 5th segment

Methods in 6th segment


Robert Toussaint, Transport Workers Union President


drivers from Jamaica and Triboro bus companies, Transport Workers Union (TWU), Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU)

Involvement of social elites

Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Pataki


Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA)

Campaigner violence

no campaigner violence

Repressive Violence

Threat of economic sanctions for striking


Economic Justice



Group characterization

Metropolitan Transit Authority Workers

Groups in 1st Segment

Transport Workers Union (TWU)
Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU)
Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA)

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

4 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


2 out of 3 points

Total points

7 out of 10 points

Database Narrative

On 20 December 2005, in the midst of the cold and busy holiday season, nearly 40,000 subway and bus operators from New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) went on strike, protesting the contract they found to have unfair economic terms. The strike, the first NYC transit strike in 25 years, completely shutdown the public transportation system, which nearly 8 million people, including 600,000 students relied on for their commutes.

During the summer prior to the strike, the MTA announced that its $1 billion surplus would not be used for improved wages or benefits for transit workers. On 15 December 2005, the contract representing subway and bus workers of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 728 expired. These workers operated the 6,000 subway cars and 4,500 buses that made up the city’s transit system. 

December 15th was originally designated the final deadline for contract negotiations. As part of the MTA’s final offer, it presented demands for a raise in retirement age and years of service. Transport Workers Union President, Robert Toussaint, rejected this demand, and extended the deadline for negotiations to 19 December. MTA claimed its pension costs were soaring, and negotiations deterioated due to the MTA’s demand that all transit workers contribute 6% of their wages (a 4% increase) towards their pensions. 

Unable to reach an agreement, drivers from the Jamaica and Triboro bus companies, private companies not under MTA control, went on strike on 19 December. This initial strike stranded approximately 50,000 passengers in Queens. On 20 December at 3:00 am, the TWU called its membership to strike, leaving NYC residents without transportation for the next three days. The strike’s purpose was to obtain a better contract with increased wages and benefits. The International Transport Workers Union, the TWU’s parent, urged it to not strike. Its president, Michael O’Brien, reminded workers that they were legally obligated to resume work, and the only way to secure a contract was through continued negotiation. However, strikers viewed the strike as an opportunity for retribution for years of what they perceived as petty harassment, insufficient pay, and racial and ethnic discrimination. (The majority of subway and bus operators were Latino and African-American.) 

The city was able to maintain relative function through the contingency plan it developed in anticipation of the strike. This included, “High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) restrictions, bridge and tunnel lane reversals to increase capacity in the peak direction, group riding and the introduction of zone fairs in taxis, suspension of all non-emergency roadway construction, commercial vehicle entry restrictions, the provision of additional ferry service, encouraging bicycling and walking, providing additional carpooling staging areas, and the maintenance of emergency routes.”

On day two of the strike, workers raised the stakes. New York State Governor George E. Pataki said negotiations would cease until strikers returned to work. Toussaint continued to demand that the MTA remove pension issues from the discussion before workers returned to work. The MTA used television advertisements to urge individual workers to return to work. State Supreme Court Justice Theodore Jones ordered three top union leaders to appear in court to face charges of criminal contempt and violation of a law that restricted public employees from striking. TWU Local 100 president Robert Toussaint criticized the mayor’s categorization of the strike as “thuggish” and “selfish,” invoking civil rights leaders Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks saying, “There is a higher calling than the law. That is equality and justice.”

On 23 December, at approximately 10:00 a.m., Toussaint contacted two other union leaders, Bruce S. Raynor, and Mike Fishman. He asked Raynor and Fishman to call Mayor Bloomberg and pressure him to have Peter S. Kalikow, head of the MTA drop pension demands. The TWU also agreed to have transit workers pay more for their health insurance to offset the MTA’s losses from the pension proposals.

Union leaders ordered an end to the strike at approximately 2:35pm on 23 December after 60 hours. Just before 11:00 p.m., bus route Bx15 was the first to begin running. At approximately midnight, the subways began to run again.

The Transport Workers Union faced sanctions from Justice Jones for violating a state law that prohibits public employees from striking. The TWU Local 100 was fined 2.5 million for the strike, while workers lost two days pay for each day of the strike[b][c]. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the strike cost an estimated $400 million per day. Toussaint was sentenced to 10 days in prison for contempt of court.

In the final contract agreement, workers received annual wage increases (3% in the first year, 4% in the second year, and 3.5% in the third year),[d][e][f] the recognition of Martin Luther King Day and Veteran’s Day as holidays, a refund of pension money that was owed to about 50% of union membership, and 1.5% payment of medical expenses.



Chan, Sewell and Greenhouse, Steven. 2005. “From Back-Channel Contacts, Blueprint for a Deal” New York Times December 23. Retrieved March 8, 2015.

Chan, Sewell and Greenhouse, Steven. 2005. “Workers Choose to Come Back and Talk” New York Times December 23 Retrieved March 8, 2015.

Downs, Steven. “What Happened- and Didn’t: Behind New York’s Transit Strike.” Retrieved March 8, 2015.

Harrington, Harry 2006 "No Contract, No Work - The 2005 New York City transit strike” Industrial Workers of the World February 3. Retrieved March 8, 2015.

2005. “Judge fines NYC transit union $1 million a day” NBC News December 20. Retrieved March 8, 2015.

“2005 Transit Strike: Transportation Impacts and Analysis” Retrieved March 8, 2015. (February 2006)

Newman, Andy. 2005 “The Slow, Ponderous Process of Restarting Wheels.” New York Times December 23. Retrieved March 8, 2015.

Scott, Janey and Chan, Sewell. 2005. “Transit Strike Into 2nd Day; Stakes Climb” New York Times December 22. Retrieved March 8, 2015.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

ShaKea Alston 08/03/2015