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.