New York — Strike threats now loom among the nation's more than 6 million unionized state, county, and municipal workers, who are reacting negatively to President Carter's anti-inflation package.
A microcosm of public-worker discontent is here in New York City, where Mayor Edward I. Koch has vowed to hold increases down to just 4 percent or "whatever the city is able to pay."
But the 33,600-member Transport Workers Union of New York, an AFL-CIO affiliate, is asking for a 30-percent wage hike just to keep pace with inflation. There are less than 12 days left before the union goes on strike, if union leader threats are to be believed.
The union's contract runs out March 31.
Against this background comes the President's anti-inflation program, which, the mayor's aides have said, could substantially reduce what New York gets in federal mass-transit aid, as well as money that is at least indirectly tied to how much the city can afford for wage hikes this year.
Actually, the transport workers are employed by an agency called the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which is a joint city-state governmental body. But the New York City mayor has a strong voice as far as pay hikes are concerned.
Union spokesmen are blaming the Carter administration almost as much as the Koch administration for the MTA's stated inability to offer the union what it is demanding. "New York and the transit authority need all the help they can get, and for anyone to even think of cutting aid is tragic," said one union official, referring to proposed cuts by the President in mass transit.
Another transport workers union spokesman, Joseph Kuctz, told the Monitor that "our people have taken less-than-adequate increases in the past four years because of the city's fiscal crisis and our people have fallen behind the rate of inflation. It would take nearly a 30 percent increase this year just to keep up with inflation."
Unofficial figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that for the first time ever public-employee union strikes nationwide topped the 500 mark last year.The official bureau total for 1978 was 481.
Part of this rise is because of growing public-employee militancy coming on the heels of Proposition 13-like government cuts in spending, according to John Barth, spokesman for the Public Service Research Council, an organization which monitors public-employee union activities across the nation.
Now, faced with Mr. Carter's budget-balancing initiatives, this militancy will grow even stronger with the possibility of more strikes in the public sector, Mr. Barth said.
The most serious public-employee dispute right now is the strike of firemen in Kansas City. In the suburbs of Detroit there are four separate teachers' strike actions continuing.
Although a spokesman for Kansas City Mayor Richard Berkley says the strike by some 850 firemen, which began this week, could be over in a matter of days, other close observers forecast it will have a much longer duration. This strike began after the city fired 42 firemen who had, in City Hall's view, participated in a "sick in" to protest the wages and hours.
Here in New York, officials are hammering together transportation contingency plans in preparation for a likely transit strike starting April 1.