NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A possible Long Island Rail Road strike is looming in two weeks, but the Metropolitan Transportation Authority still doesn’t have a final contingency plan.
And as CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on Congress to step in and said he will not get involved because it simply is not his job.
MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said the agency plans to have shuttle buses bring a percentage of riders to Queens, where they could catch a subway train to Manhattan.
“The buses will not be able to carry the same volume of customers that we can normally carry with the trains of the Long Island Rail Road,” Donovan told 1010 WINS. “As a result, the buses may be crowded. They will be stuck in traffic, and we’re not recommending the buses, although we feel that it’s the best alternative.”
Contract talks were expected to resume Tuesday afternoon between the MTA and LIRR union workers. Federal mediators will be present at the negotiations. The last round of talks ended with no compromise in sight, and both sides have blamed the other for the stalemate.
With the strike clock ticking, Cuomo said Monday that he still has no plans to intervene.
Although he’s gotten involved in a number of other union disputes, Cuomo said those contracts were with the state and in control of the state.
“The LIRR is a little different because the way the law is written it’s actually Congress that can end a strike and impose a settlement,” Cuomo said. “I have said to both parties: ‘I truly hope it doesn’t get to that point. If it does get to that point, I hope Congress acts immediately to resolve it and resolves it in a prudent way.'”
“The possibility of a strike causes so much anxiety I don’t even like to think about it,” Cuomo added. “There is no good alternative to the LIRR on Long Island.”
Anthony Simon, the head of the United Transportation Union – the negotiating arm for the 5,400 LIRR workers – said a strike could have nightmarish consequences for the Long Island commuting public.
“The MTA is pushing us towards a strike,” Simon said. “This could be the most devastating strike Long Island has ever seen, and yet the MTA will make that gamble.”
The union and the MTA have been far apart for months, failing to agree despite two separate proposals by a presidential mediation board. The sticking point seems to be pension and health benefits for new employees.
The MTA has offered workers a 17 percent raise over seven years, but would require them to pay toward health care costs. Currently, LIRR workers don’t contribute toward their health insurance at all.
The union has made a counteroffer, but the details of its proposal have not been released. Union leaders have blasted the MTA for making the details of their proposal public.
Both sides charge the other is not negotiating in good faith, but agree a strike would be awful because there is no good way to get so many commuters to work and back.
MTA chief spokesman Adam Lisberg said the best bet might be to avoid commuting altogether.
“The best thing that you can do is try not to commute,” he said. “If you can telecommute, if you can work with your bosses, if you can take a vacation that week, that’s a great alternative. There’s a limit to how much we can do. There are not enough buses or lanes in the world to make up for the Long Island Rain Road.”
Commuters whom spoke to CBS 2 were not so confident that Congress will act as mediator.
“They have enough on their plate,” one man said. “This is a local matter.”
“It should be between the MTA and the Long Island Rail Road,” a woman said.
“Both sides should come together and think about the passengers for once,” another man said.
Simon reiterated that the strike would have disastrous consequences.
“We have an economy that is still fragile, still fragile from Hurricane Sandy,” he said. “The whole East End would be devastated. You can never get back what some small businesses would lose in one day with any type of strike – they’ve lost it forever.”
Some commuters were hopeful that things would work out and had not made any backup plans.
“Waiting. Hopeful I won’t have to drive in every day,” Lou Calderone told CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider.
A strike could come as early as July 20, affecting 300,000 daily riders who are considering their options.
If the strike does happen, the MTA said that it will have shuttle buses that will take some riders into Queens where they will be able to take the subway.
Riders said that wouldn’t help with what would be a nightmare commute.
“There’s 300,000 people who take the train. How many buses are you going to take?” commuter Eric Scharmman said.
LIRR employees have been working without a contract since 2010.
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