Bah Humbug: Transit Strike Looms

NEW YORK — The potential of a transit strike in New York City sent chills up retailers’ spines Monday, while Seventh Avenue manufacturers were making contingency plans to get their employees to work next week.<br><br>With the Metropolitan...

NEW YORK — The potential of a transit strike in New York City sent chills up retailers’ spines Monday, while Seventh Avenue manufacturers were making contingency plans to get their employees to work next week.

This story first appeared in the December 10, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

With the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, which represents 34,000 workers that operate the city’s buses and subways, at loggerheads over wages and other issues, the distinct possibility of the third transit strike in modern times loomed over the city’s key industries.

For the city, a transit strike would kill the Christmas sales momentum they’ve been seeing. Since Thanksgiving, business has met or slightly surpassed plans for slight gains this season. If there is a strike, they will just have to bear it. They said there’s little, if anything, they can do to minimize the impact and generally won’t change their promotional calendars or advertising strategies.

“Business could really be devastated,” said Ron Frasch, chairman and chief executive officer of Bergdorf Goodman. “But we would not change our strategy for it. It’s not like I have a fleet of buses I can deploy.”

“I can’t believe that the mayor would have something like this happen during Christmas,” said Howard Socol, chairman, ceo and president of Barneys New York. “This is not good for business or for the Christmas spirit. I don’t think we are going to try to anticipate a transit strike, or run an extra promotion. It’s just not what Barneys does.”

Andrew Block, senior vice president of marketing at Tourneau, said a transit strike would be “a disaster,” especially since Tourneau’s flagship is in New York. He said Tourneau doesn’t have any specific contingency plans.

Along Seventh Avenue, the worry wasn’t as deep, with December not a key wholesaling month, but companies were still trying to figure out a strike strategy.

Barbara Randall, executive director of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District, said the FCBID might send out a flyer informing local businesses of where in the district parking is available. But so far, she hasn’t decided what the organization will do.

“We’re in a wait-and-see situation,” Randall said. “We’ll all be lighting candles like everybody else and hoping this doesn’t happen because if it does, it will be a huge disaster.”

Gregg Marks, president of Kasper ASL Ltd., said: “It’s a shame with everybody trying to get into a holiday spirit after a difficult year that the transit workers would do this. As a company, we would try to set up contingency plans to get our employees to work. I remember vaguely in the last strike in the early Eighties [11 days in 1980], it took people a long time to get into the city.”

Designer Yeohlee Teng said: “I’m hoping that Mayor Bloomberg will ride in like a knight in shining armor and avert this because I think it’s the last thing any of us needs right now. However, I’ve thought about how we would deal with it and most of my staff lives in Manhattan, so people can probably walk. Beyond that, our staff would carpool. The person that lives the farthest out would pick up the others on the way in. But getting in to Manhattan during a strike could be tricky, too, so that’s just a contingent plan.”

Bud Konheim, chief executive officer of Nicole Miller, which also operates two signature stores in Manhattan, said: “This would not be good for anybody and I hope to God it doesn’t happen. It will stop everything cold, traffic will be horrendous, people will not come in to the city and people in Manhattan won’t be able to get around.

“As far as getting employees to work, I haven’t even thought that far ahead. The situation is compounded because you put extra inventory into the stores to sell during this period, so what do you do when the new stuff comes in and the old stuff hasn’t sold?”

James Mischka of Badgley Mischka said the design house has been following the transit developments, but has a practical solution in place should the strike come to pass: “We’ll walk.”