By and  on December 19, 2005

NEW YORK — With the clock ticking toward a possible subway and bus strike here at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, retailers have taken steps to make sure sales floors are staffed during the shopping countdown to Christmas.

As for getting customers into stores without service to seven million daily weekday riders, that's another story.

"I'm in denial and just praying it's not going to happen," said Jeffrey Kalinsky, owner of Jeffrey New York. "It couldn't come at a worse time."

Transport Workers Union Local 100, representing 33,700 members, delayed a strike that had been set for 12:01 a.m. Friday. The decision by the union's executive board came after all-night bargaining with the leadership of the Metropolitan Transportation Agency, which runs mass transit in New York City and the northern and eastern suburbs. Instead of walking off their jobs for the largest U.S. public transportation system, the union called a strike at two private bus companies in Queens, N.Y., that are in the process of coming under the MTA's control. The major sticking point in negotiations appears to concern pension and health benefits givebacks.

The state's Taylor Law prohibits strikes by public employees, and the union and workers would face huge fines and pay sanctions. The last walkout was for 11 days in 1980.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has estimated that a strike might cost the economy as much as $400 million a day.

At Saks Fifth Avenue, corporate executives and other support employees — in the marketing, buying, advertising and visual departments — are prepared to staff the 10 selling floors of the Manhattan flagship, where there are normally about 2,000 associates.

"Probably 90 percent of our associates use some form of public transportation, and probably a third come from outside of the city," said Robert Wallstrom, senior vice president and general manager of the Saks flagship here. "But at least this is something that we can plan for, as opposed to a blackout."

Saks has designated areas of the loading dock for people to store bicycles or skates, if that's how they come to work. Some staff will be rescheduled to arrive at non-peak hours, perhaps coming in earlier and leaving earlier."Obviously, if there is a strike, we would expect a negative impact to business, but it's not like there won't be people in the city," said Wallstrom, noting that many hotels are currently filled with tourists.

Bloomingdale's has arranged carpooling, as well as other alternatives, said Michael Gould, chairman and chief executive officer. "If it comes to pass, it won't be good. We're trying to make it as easy as possible for our employees to come to work. Some people will have to open and close the building. They will either live close by or we will make provisions for them…If it lasts just one day, the effects are enormous."

John Ford, director of stores for Sears for the New York area, said the company paired up associates who drive with those who need rides and synchronized their schedules to accommodate the carpooling. Sears operates no stores in Manhattan, but it has units in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island.

At Bergdorf Goodman, Jim Gold, president and ceo, said, "Of the 1,000 employees at the store, only about 25 percent of our population will have a very difficult time getting here. Our major concern in the short run is covering the sales floor, and we are confident that they will be well covered."

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