Sao Paulo snarled as metro strike continues

AFP-JIJI

Sao Paulo subway workers ignored a court ruling Sunday and extended a strike threatening to cause traffic mayhem at the World Cup’s opening game on Thursday.

The subway staff’s union voted to press on with the strike hours after a labor court ruled it was illegal and imposed a $222,000 fine for every day they fail to work.

The strike has already caused massive traffic jams in the business hub of 20 million people, Brazil’s largest city.

Sao Paolo’s new stadium will welcome more than 60,000 fans for the opening match between Brazil and Croatia.

Eighteen of the 32 teams are now on the ground, but the chaos gripping Sao Paulo — the latest in a wave of strikes and protests ahead of the tournament — has distracted the soccer-mad nation from the World Cup buildup.

Union President Altino Melo dos Prazeres told subway workers they should seize on the tournament and elections later this year to pressure authorities.

The protest over wage demands is the latest social upheaval to hit Brazil, where there have been angry demonstrations against the World Cup’s $11 billion bill.

The five-line subway system has been partially operating, but trains were not arriving at Corinthians Arena, which will host the opening game.

Union workers have reduced an initial demand for a 16.5 percent wage hike to 12.2 percent, but employers are offering only 8.7 percent.

Authorities are hard-pressed to resolve the latest labor dispute to avoid another embarrassing incident in a World Cup hit by delays, cost overruns and protests even before it has started.

The 61,600-capacity Corinthians Arena has itself been plagued by delays, and construction workers were racing against the clock over the weekend to finish it before the opening whistle.

Delays at five of the 12 host stadiums have contributed to a ballooning bill for the games, infuriating many Brazilians.

President Dilma Rousseff insists that the money spent on the tournament will leave a legacy of modernized airports and transport infrastructure that will benefit Brazil for years to come. But much of the promised train and road infrastructure has been shelved.

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