NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A potential Long Island Rail Road worker strike has been pushed back by members of the largest union.
As WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported, the March 21 strike threat is on hold until July 20 as union members and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority agree to more talks with a federal arbitrator in Washington.
But the two sides are still far apart on contract negotiations, Diamond reported.
“Preventing a work stoppage in the near future is in the hands of the MTA,” Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union representative Anthony Simon said. “The board has said you have the ability to pay and now they want to stay on a net zero and it’s just not sustainable.”
The agency rejected the recommendations of one presidential review board earlier this year.
As CBS 2’s Andrea Grymes reported, the presidential emergency board recommended annual raises of 2.83 percent over six years with some health benefit contributions. Despite what the MTA requested to save money, the panel did not propose work rule changes.
The union said while it wasn’t ideal, they were willing to accept the deal. The MTA, however, was not.
“For the first time in my 35-year union career, I have seen a rail carrier spit in the face of a presidential emergency board’s recommendations,” TCU/IAM National Vice-President Joel Parker said.
The board said the MTA has various revenue and funding options, including previously announced fare increases.
But the MTA said it does not want to raise fares to cover the costs of a new contract.
“All our employees deserve a raise. We want to pay for those raises through some cost-neutral proposals,” MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said. “Any increases in salaries need to be paid for by other changes.”
Those proposals include work rule changes and employer contributions to health care.
Some local officials have gotten involved with the hopes of avoiding a strike altogether.
“We’re going to continue pressing them to come to a fair, negotiated compromise that keeps the trains running without increasing fares,” Rep. Steve Israel told WCBS 880’s Steve Scott on Friday.
Both sides will meet next week at the National Mediation Board. The unions and MTA said they’re hopeful they can reach an agreement. But if not, the MTA said it will seek out another presidential emergency board.
The unions believe the MTA can find money in the budget to increase salaries without passing the cost onto riders or making work rule changes.
The MTA said if the presidential emergency board’s recommendations were applied across the entire system, it would cost $400 million a year, the equivalent of a 12 percent fare hike.
LIRR unions have been without a contract since 2010. Smaller LIRR unions have approved similar votes to walk off the job.
A strike would send 300,000 daily commuters scrambling to find an alternate means of transportation.
“It would affect me real bad,” one commuter said.
“I’d have no means, really, of getting to where I need to go,” another LIRR rider added.
If a strike happens it would be the LIRR’s first since 1994.
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