Today’s news:

Boro’s striking bus union fights Bloomberg in court to court to fight mayor

The battlefield extended from picket line to courtroom in the fourth week of the borough bus strike as the union argued that the state of emergency declared by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to let dollar vans and livery cabs pick up stranded passengers is illegal.

Bloomberg has declared a citywide state of emergency in order to suspend the laws that prevent commuter vans and for-hire vehicles from picking up street hails. The city’s contingency plan calls on dollar vans and livery cabs to pick up passengers along major bus routes and drop them off at the nearest transit hubs to continue their commutes.

But in papers filed Tuesday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on behalf of Transport Workers Union Local 100, attorney Arthur Schwartz points out that such an emergency is defined in law as the occurrence of “widespread or severe damage, injury or loss of life or property resulting from any natural or manmade causes.”

“None of these things have happened,” Schwartz wrote in his brief. “All that has occurred is that 1,200 employees of three privately owned, but city-subsidized, bus companies have gone on strike.”

Schwartz is asking the court to make the city “show cause” justifying the state of emergency and to issue “a stay restraining the mayor from continuing with his Emergency Declarations and suspensions of the law.” An initial court appearance was scheduled for Wednesday morning after the TimesLedger went to press.

The brief goes on to blast the mayor for his inaction in resolving the strike.

“It is pernicious enough that the mayor would make perverse use of an emergency law simply to break a strike,” Schwartz wrote. “What makes it worse is that the city itself is a player.”

But Bloomberg responded by pinning the blame back on the striking workers for aggravating borough commuters.

“It’s outrageous that the bus drivers’ union would inconvenience Queens residents with a strike and then would further seek to inconvenience riders by attempting to dismantle the city’s contingency plan,” Bloomberg spokesman Jordan Barowitz said Tuesday.

Buses operated by Queens Surface Corp., Triboro Coach and Jamaica Buses have sat idle since June 17, when workers walked off the job citing the city’s refusal to increase the funding of the union’s health plan.

The city heavily subsidizes the private bus lines and must approve any contract negotiated between the union and company management. Drivers and mechanics for the three bus lines have gone without a contract for a year and a half.

Union officials say the health plan will go bankrupt without more support from the city.

Although Bloomberg originally reacted to the strike by insisting the city plays no role in negotiations, he has since said the city simply cannot afford to meet the union’s demands.

Barowitz said the city is interested in aiding negotiations between the bus companies and union.

“We’re anxiously awaiting their telephone call,” Barowitz said. “We stand ready to assist any way we can.”

Meanwhile, state Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) has introduced legislation that would provide $500,000 in state funds for the health coverage and require the city to match it with another $500,000.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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