The mood was both raucous and defiant at the Dec. 19 Transit Workers Union rally, held just hours before the expiration of the second union-imposed strike deadline set for 12:01 Tuesday morning. Outside of Governor Pataki’s New York City office on 3rd Avenue, thousands of workers crowded into police barricades along the two city blocks between 38th and 40th streets, holding signs in support of a new contract with the MTA and chanting “Shame on Pataki.”

“I believe the process tonight is to shake down the governor and make him get involved,” said Sal Stazzone, a staff representative for TWU local 100. “This is his last chance, after this, we’re shutting down the system at midnight,” Stazzone said.

John Vargas, a car inspector in Jamaica, Queens expressed frustration with the MTA’s refusal to grant concessions on pensions. “The pensions is the main thing,” he said. “They [the MTA] are making millions and millions of dollars… And when it comes to give something to the employees, they always refuse. They always refuse, but we are the ones working hard behind the wheels to move the trains.”

The thousands of TWU workers were flanked by supporters from, among others, the Teamsters Union, the Teachers’ Union, SEIU, and New York hotel employees. Cassie Carlo, a New York City teacher explained her presence at the rally. “We’re here to support our brothers and sisters so that we can hurry up and sign a contract,” she said. “I think they’re on the right road here, they should try to get as much as they possibly can,” she said. “They’re a hard-working team.”

Carlo expressed concern over the prospect of working in the occasion of a strike. “That is a big problem for our teachers, that is a big problem for our students who travel and go to alternative schools,” said Carlo. “I think that we need to be concerned with the safety of our children when they’re in school and all the teachers don’t show up. What are you gonna do with so many kids in the school who can walk to school, and teachers who have to drive in, and you can’t drive in under 59th street?”

“I’m here to get a good contract, we deserve it,” said Igor Aronov, who fixes train cars for the MTA. For Aronov, the issues of health benefits, wages, retirement and seniority were all paramount. He discounted the thought that the workers should have to compromise on any of these issues. “We do more work for less,” said Aronov. “We already give… a lot of productivity already.” He also expressed concern for the concessions newer workers coming into the MTA are being asked to make. “I feel sorry for them,” he said.

Deborah Williams, a station department agent who has worked for the MTA for eight years, complained about changes in her responsibilities imposed by the MTA. “They want to combine the conductors and station agent titles,” she said. “And plus they want us to go outside the booth. Now that we’re doing customer assistance outside the booth, you know, scrap garbage, empty the trashcan, clean the booth. But we were never hired for that.”

“We’re not gonna accept these proposals, we’re not,” she said. Asked if she thought a strike was imminent, she responded, “Yes, we don’t want to, but, we have no other choice.”

Her resignation to the stalled negotiations mixed with a determination to strike in the face of making unwanted concessions to the MTA was reflected by many of the workers. “Well, normally no one wants strikes,” said Vargas. “But if the situation forces us to strike, we strike.”

While Williams acknowledged that the strike would break the much-touted Taylor Law, banning MTA employees from striking, Williams denounced the recent threats of fines of 25 thousand dollars, lobbed last week by the Bloomberg administration in the lead-up to a strike. “They can only do to us what the Taylor Law says, all the other stuff is a lot of crap. They’re trying to intimidate us,” she said. “I’m prepared to sacrifice whatever, how[ever] many days it takes,” Williams said. “In order to get a fair contract.”