NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Six days remained to the Long Island Rail Road strike deadline Monday, and workers were prepared to walk off the job.
As CBS 2 political reporter Marcia Kramer reported, talks between the LIRR unions and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority fell apart Monday, with both sides walking away from the table.
MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast had no sympathy for the unions as he talked with reporters shortly after the talks collapsed.
“We’ve done giving, they’ve done taking,” he said.
With the potential walkout of 5,400 workers looming, Prendergast said a strike would be very painful and added: “They haven’t moved at all. … Until they’re ready to move, there’s no reason to have negotiations.”
After an earlier hour-long meeting between both sides Monday, United Transportation Union President Anthony Simon, the workers’ chief negotiator, said the MTA rejected the unions’ counteroffer with no new proposal.
“At this point, it is absolutely regrettable to say that we have come to a complete impasse,” Simon told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell, after the meeting. “The MTA has not come with a counteroffer at all and is not moving.”
Simon called it “absurd” and said the LIRR’s unions are going to prepare for a strike starting at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. LIRR service could begin to wind down as early as Wednesday as the railroad secures its equipment, the unions said in a statement.
“The MTA is causing this,” Simon said. “There is no way, shape or form that the unions want to do this.”
No new talks have been scheduled.
Prendergast attended the meeting, but left after 30 minutes, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, he said there was a “gulf” between the two sides.
Watch the full video of Thomas Prendergast’s news conference:
“There was a long distance between the offer we have up on the table and their willingness and ability to be able to respond to that and close this gap,” Prendergast said.
Prendergast also charged that the LIRR was being goaded to strike by their international leaders.
“Certainly, there’s a lot of international influence in this,” he said, “and internationals have other interests and other desires that don’t necessarily align themselves with what we need to do here.”
MTA officials pointed out that in a video of a recent union meeting where workers urged their leaders to strike, those pushing for a strike were from out of state.
“Anthony Simon, (Chair of the Transportation Communication Union) Artie Maratea — it’s important that they are unencumbered and make their own decisions,” Prendergast said. “The needs of New York take precedence over the needs of anybody outside of New York.”
As 1010 WINS’ Derricke Dennis reported, Prendergast also noted that if a strike goes ahead, it would come during hurricane season.
“I think the worst-case scenario that we could find ourselves in is employees out on strike may or may not come back to work,” ,” Prendergast said. “The Long Island Rail Road is one of the best evacuation means off the island, and I don’t think – I don’t even think – labor would want to be in a position that would put the public at risk.”
The MTA had been reviewing the unions’ counterproposal after the two sides spent more than five hours negotiating last Thursday.
When asked by CBS 2’s Kramer if he was troubled that there had been no movement in negotiations since last week’s talks, Simon said before the meeting, “We should have been in the room.”
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.
The other sticking point in the talks has been demands from the MTA that new employees – termed the “unborn” – pay more for health and pension benefits.
Sources told CBS 2 it is difficult for union leaders to sell their members on pension and health givebacks – even from those members not yet hired – because two separate White House mediation boards recommended raises without any changes in benefits for new employees.
“The issue is that we’ve accepted that active employees will pay health and welfare at a high rate. The issues are the amount that they want new employees to pay. It’s not whether they will pay something different or not, it’s about how much,” Simon said. “They want to cripple the new employees. We don’t want to do that. We did not say that we would not bend in that direction. We just don’t want to bend as far as they want to bend.”
But Prendergast said the MTA offer was reasonable.
“We said new hires would pay 4 percent for their entire term of employment for pension contributions, and they would help pay health care contributions for 4 percent,” Prendergast said.
The MTA said ticket prices could go up if unions do not agree to concessions.
The union did make a counterproposal, but after considering for three days, the MTA reportedly concluded that it was unsatisfactory and walked away from the table.
“We fully understand the impact that a strike would cause for our customers, the elected officials, constituents and all the residents of Long Island and New York metro area,” Prendergast said. “It’s an extremely impactful event which would disrupt people’s lives and cause a great deal of discomfort.”
The exact details of the unions’ counteroffer have not been released.
The unions have been working without a contract since 2010.
Simon called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to intervene to prevent a strike, even though Cuomo has already said he has no plans to get involved.
“Right now, we are going to ask the governor to step in and tell the MTA there is no reason to take a strike, and we need the governor to tell the MTA chairman to settle this, and let’s prevent the strike,” Simon said.
Before talks resumed Monday, U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., reminded both sides not to look to Washington for help.
“The MTA came to Washington, asked whether Congress would help and we sent them back to the negotiating table, and we said, ‘Instead of talking to Congress, talk to the unions,'” he told 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera. “They need to stay at the table. I don’t care if they have to bring in cots, I don’t care if they have to bring in extra coffee. Stay at the table, avoid a strike, protect the commuter.”
Meanwhile, some of the LIRR’s 180,000 daily commuters who could be left in the lurch are deciding what to do if there is a strike.
“I think it’s going to be very difficult, and I’m really nervous about it,” said commuter Karina Mazzilli.
“I think I’ll wind up working from home, honestly,” said commuter Jeremy Katoff.
“I take the train in five days a week, so I’ll have to go on vacation and lose a week’s pay,” said another commuter.
Officials: Contingency Plan Is A Drop In The Bucket
If a deal isn’t reached by the July 20 deadline, the MTA has put a contingency plan in place, but officials admit it won’t meet workday demands.
Options for riders include:
– Free shuttle buses for 15,000 riders from stations in Manhasset, Hicksville, Seaford, Bellmore, Freeport and Nassau Community College.
– In Ronkonkoma and Deer Park in Suffolk County, the MTA said it can can get 1,000 riders on ferries out of Glen Cove that will take them to the East 34th Station.
– Buses from Nassau County College and the Merrick and Bellmore train stations that will connect to the Howard Beach A train station in Queens.
– Buses from the Bethpage, Deer Park and Ronkonkoma stations that will connect to the No. 7 line at the Mets-Willets Point station.
– Buses from Hicksville that will go to the Woodhaven Boulevard subway station in Elmhurst, Queens, serving the E, M and R trains.
– There will be 4,000 parking spots available at Citi Field and 3,000 at Aqueduct Raceway.
– For drivers, the HOV lanes on the Long Island Expressway will require three people instead of the usual two.
– Subway cars will be added and more trains will run on the 7 and A lines.
– Ferry and shuttle bus service will be available during peak hours, between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. and between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
– Officials are also urging employees to telecommute if possible.
Prendergast emphasized that the MTA has developed a contingency strike plan that is far more detailed than the plan in place during the last strike in 1994, when only 7,000 riders could be accommodated.
As WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs reported, Manhattan-based companies are beginning to take advantage of office space that the Nassau County is making available as part of its LIRR work strike contingency plan.
In Glen Cove, Mayor Reggie Spinello said his city is looking to offer additional ferry service into Manhattan if a strike happens.
“Right now, they’re testing a 500-passenger vessel,” he said. “If that doesn’t work, I believe they have a 150-passenger vessel that they’ll try.”
Scott, who works near the ferry terminal is skeptical.
“It’s a wannabe ferry terminal,” he told 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera. “It’s not ready for prime time.”
As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, two ferry trips per day can carry 1,000 customers – a drop in the bucket compared to the 300,000 daily rides the railroad provides. Under the MTA contingency plan, another 15,000 customers will fit on shuttle buses from eight locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties to subway stations in Queens.
Extra parking would also be set up for several subway stations and at ride-sharing lots in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Another 18,000 workers told the MTA they will telecommute. But even with all of that considered, the contingency plan provides for less than a third of the LIRR daily ridership.
“It’s good that (the options) exist,” state Sen. Carl L. Marcellino (R-Oyster Bay) of the plans. “It’s good that my colleagues are working on stuff to get it done, but we don’t want a strike.
“We’re urging both sides: Sit down and negotiate, and don’t get out of that room until you come out with a deal.”
“If there’s an options that can keep you here on the island, that’s the option you should take,” added Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano.
Lawmakers urged both sides to break the stalemate.
“The contingency plan barely puts a dent into what is going to have to take place in order to avoid massive dislocation, disruption, and a devastating economic impact,” said Rep. Israel.
But economist Irwin Kellner, who remembers the seven-week LIRR strike in 1972, said nowadays there are more options.
“We have smartphones, we have the Internet, and I’m sure a lot of employers will be not only encouraging, but allowing their employees to work at home,” said Kellner, of MarketWatch.com.
Long Island companies already have been talking to their employees for hotel rooms, carpooling and telecommuting.
Commuters Prepare For The Worst
Meanwhile, as CBS 2’s Matt Kozar reported, some commuters at Penn Station said Monday that the strike could double or even triple their commutes to work. And while some commuters told Kozar and WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond they think the MTA and the unions were grandstanding and a deal would be reached in the 11th hour, many were still preparing for the worst.
“I think I’ll just drive in,” one woman said. “Paying for parking — it’s going to be a pain no matter what.”
“I’m going to try to take a bus, but I understand the bus is limited to so many people,” one man said.
Ironworker Scott Phillips said he might have to get up at 3 a.m. to get to work on time.
“I can only imagine those people on the road, and trying to get from A to B,” Phillips said. “It’s going to be chaos.”
Joe from North Babylon said he is certain there will be a short strike. He said Gov. Andrew Cuomo should have stepped in long ago to settle the dispute.
“He’s supposed to be working for the people, and we’re the people,” he said.
And unlike most commuters, Brian Barnes said he is in favor of a strike – if it means better wages for workers who have to contend with a high cost of living.
“It’s going to be a big problem for me, but these guys live on Long Island. Taxes are high. Everything’s high,” Barnes said. “So if they can have a little bit of benefit, where they don’t have to pay for their medical, and they get a little bit of a raise, you know, what’s the big deal?”
Business owners in Penn Station also expressed worries about a strike going ahead. Penn Station business owner Joe Catalanotto told 1010 WINS someone should step in to stop a strike.
“We just don’t want the flow broken up. Everything’s going good right now. The economy seems to be going in the right direction. You’ve got the tourists spending. You’ve got the regular people spending. So we want just to keep that going,” Catalanotto said. “It’s like when you have a heart attack – you know, blood doesn’t flow in your veins? Well, it’s the same thing for a business. We need the blood to flow, and that’s obviously the customers.”
Craig Newman, owner of Penn Books, said each business at Penn Station will lose thousands and thousands of dollars.
“Maybe you have a few stragglers; you lose 95 percent of your business,” Newman said.
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