NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Commuters were bracing for the worst Friday, following the latest round of contract talks between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Long Island Rail Road union workers ended with no compromise in sight.
As CBS 2’s Weijia Jiang reported, union leaders for the LIRR workers stormed out of contract negotiations with the MTA on Friday. The latest round lasted less than two hours.
Both sides blamed the other for the stalemate.
“It’s an absolute disgrace,” Anthony Simon of the United Transportation Union said after the Friday morning meeting. “We gave them a counter offer. They went out and caucused for 10 minutes and came back and said absolutely not, their proposal stands. You know what? That’s what we’ve been dealing with for four years, the arrogance and the disrespect.”
Simon suggested that the MTA would not stop a strike from happening.
“The MTA is telling us they will endure a strike,” he said. “They should be ashamed of themselves. The riding public should now know that it’s the MTA that is looking to cause a strike.
But as WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported, the MTA’s chief negotiator said Simon’s claims were “absolutely not true,” and that it is the unions that won’t budge.
“What was presented to us was a response, it was not a counter offer. It’s exactly the position that they’ve held for six months,” said Anita Miller, director of labor relations for the MTA.
“The unions did come to today’s meeting, but clearly not to negotiate,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan told 1010 WINS. “The unions still have not budged one inch and continue to hold a strike over the heads of all Long Islanders. We urge the union leadership to come back and settle this contract at the bargaining table.”
The agency’s latest proposal would give workers a 17 percent raise over seven years, up from a previous offer of an 11 percent hike over six years. The unions are pushing for a 17 percent increase over six years.
The MTA offer also seeks to require current employees to contribute 2 percent of regular pay toward health care costs. Currently, LIRR workers don’t contribute toward their health insurance at all.
The MTA proposal would also require LIRR employees to contribute more to health care and pension costs than current ones. The new employees would pay 4 percent.
Union leaders refused to answer the question of what specifically LIRR workers are asking for, and blasted the MTA for making the details of their proposal public.
“It was a miserable and sneaky attempt to turn the public, our members and the eight unions against each other,” Simon had said in a statement. “Another failed attempt by the MTA.”
The MTA has defended its actions.
“They are the ones who have been threatening to walk off the job,” spokesman Adam Lisberg told WCBS 880’s Mike Xirinachs. “We are trying to find a way that we can settle this.”
But Simon called it “a bad, bad way to do business” and said the MTA will “have to pay the consequences.”
“The MTA chose to start a war in the paper and bring out a proposal to the public before they brought it out to the unions,” Simon told Xirinachs.
Union leaders said after Friday’s unproductive meeting, a strike is very likely.
“From what we could see, we’re at an impasse and the strike seems almost definite at this point,” Christopher Natale of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen told 1010 WINS.
A strike could come as early as July 20, affecting 300,000 daily riders who are getting anxious.
“They should just settle,” said commuter Richard Eisenberg. “There should be a little give and take. Just settle it.”
“Think about us. Why are you doing it to us?” said Don Leventhal of Woodmere. “You raise the rates, you raise the rates, you raise the rates, and we get poorer service.”
Ellayne Ganzfried of Great Neck has already been making other plans.
“I’m planning my schedule around the dates to make sure that I don’t have to necessarily be in the city or work from home because I’m not going to drive in,” Ganzfried said.
Elected officials were unimpressed by a draft contingency plan that was leaked to the media. The plan would have thousands of commuters going to just six LIRR stations to reach shuttle buses.
“Just like these sneakers, the LIRR plan stinks,” said Hempstead Councilman Gary Hudes.
Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray called the plan, “a prescription for disaster.”
The MTA says alternate options are still in the works.
“We are updating it, literally every day,” said Lisberg.
The hope is that no contingency plan will be necessary if both sides reach a deal. At this point, the MTA says commuters should talk to their employers about the possibility of working from home or taking a vacation.
The MTA and unions have not scheduled a time to resume talks. LIRR employees have been working without a contract since 2010.
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