A View from Brad King

Technology Circumvents NYC Transit Strike

The shutdown of New York City’s public transit system hasn’t affected some local businesses thanks to wireless and mobile technologies.

  • December 22, 2005

Strikes are the last, most powerful resort for unions hoping to gain some leverage in contract battles with management. But if New York City is a testing ground, unions may be facing a troubling future.

The NYC transit workers went on strike this week, hoping that a shutdown of city transportation would bring City Hall to its knees, and force the government to acquiesce to wage and benefit hikes. According to this Associate Press report, however, despite the shutdown, it’s basically business as usual for many local companies, who have simply allowed their employees to work remotely.

Clearly, there are a lot of jobs in New York City for which working from home is not an option, such as in retail and the service industry. But for segments like the financial industry, technology makes a big difference, said Frank Lichtenberg, professor of economics at Columbia Business School.

The strike “does still represent a significant disruption,” he said, but “clearly this information technology has reduced the cost of this kind of disruption and made it somewhat easier to bear.”

As someone who grew up in a union town – and who has seen what can happen to workers that don’t have some protection from management – the phrase “easier to bear” sends chills through my bones. Strikes are meant to force action, not become simply a minor inconvenience.

However, it’s also somewhat comforting to realize that technology has permeated our cities to the point that what used to be major disruptions have become minor speed bumps.

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