What essentially happened was this: The judge threated the union heads with jail in contempt, and they ended the strike. Was this the only reason? Well, no - but I'm sure it played a role. Or, as Steve Brizel e-mailed me:
The union heads played their hand as far as they could- they walked out and were on the verge of being held in contempt when they agreed that their members should return to work. If they had been thrown into Rikers, they would have become martyrs, rightfully or wrongfully, but the union would wind up being broken by virtue of the Taylor Law sanctions and fines. They could care less about the comfort of the riding public-which IMO, is the attitude of the average public servant-they are willing to strike to protect themselves but extending themselves for the public or even offering a smile seems beyond their basic capabilities.What I think played another major factor in their decision was the following: The people of New York were quickly figuring out alternative methods of getting around the city - as of now, many of those methods were more expensive or bigger pains, and traffic was quite high, but each of those problems were easing as the days passed.
Now, imagine if the strike continued for a number of weeks. New Yorkers would have basically solved how to get to and from work every day, and businesses would be back up to decent levels. Some may even have found that a little extra walking or biking - even in the cold of winter - was actually doing them some good, too. The MTA may have found some replacement workers, and gotten some major trains up and running; and cabs and vans would have dropped prices a bit to compete. Not too many people would have been sympathetic any longer to a union whose demands were so far off the pale, which becomes more clear as their services are realized to be less necessary than they were originally perceived to be. [This should not be understood to mean that their jobs are unimportant; rather, that there are viable alternatives to riding a unionized MTA.]
Let's be clear: The workers are 
Technorati tags: MTA, Transit, Strike, New York.