NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — No new talks have been scheduled between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Long Island Rail Road workers’ unions, a day after negotiations broke down with both sides walking away from the table.
And as CBS 2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, workers have begun preparing in earnest to begin their strike and walk the picket lines.
Picket signs were already prepared Tuesday, and were propped against the walls of the Patchogue headquarters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 589 – the electrical workers for the LIRR. Strike captains told members of the union that they all must walk the picket lines.
“Anyone claiming they cannot picket for whatever reason, we’re not going to entertain it,” said IBEW Local 589 President Jeff Klein. “If they call this office, they’re going to hear, ‘click.’”
With the potential walkout of 5,400 workers looming in just five days, the preparations are real and the message to members has been grim.
“I did tell my members – be prepared for at least a month, a month of a strike – and hopefully, that doesn’t happen,” said IBEW Local 589 general chairman Richard Sanchez.
Meanwhile, the unions have re-offered a cooling off period that would go for a couple of months to come.
“We still have the offer on the table that they have still refused, and that’s a cooling off period until September,” United Transportation Union President Anthony Simon, the workers’ chief negotiator, told CBS 2’s Kramer.
But MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg called it “a hostage negotiation.”
“This is not a labor negotiation, it’s a hostage negotiation,” he told 1010 WINS. “We’re not going to negotiate against ourselves with people who just say, ‘no, more, more’ without being willing to compromise.”
Lisberg said if a strike happened in September instead of this month, the results would be even more devastating.
“Bear in mind that the traffic nightmare that they’re talking about creating – right now, kids are out of school,” Lisberg told Kramer. “September, they’d be stuck in it.”
On Tuesday morning, MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast released an open letter to commuters on the MTA’s website detailing the agency’s offer to the unions.
The main sticking point seems to be whether future LIRR employees would have to contribute to pensions and health insurance.
In its latest offer, the MTA says future LIRR employees would have to contribute 4 percent to healthcare and contribute to their pensions throughout their career with the railroad.
Prendergast said under their plan, LIRR employees would “remain the highest paid commuter railroad workers in the country and with the best pension in the industry.”
But Simon has said the MTA wants to “cripple the new employees” and said the agency rejected the unions’ counteroffer with no new proposal.
“In my opinion and in the coalition’s opinion, they’re just trying to bait the unions into the strike so that they can blame the unions and that’s a dangerous game for an agency like this to play,” Simon told 1010 WINS.
No New Negotiations Set Between MTA, LIRR Unions As Workers Prepare For Strike
The unions also claimed Tuesday that they have to protect hundreds of new employees who will be hired by the MTA for its East Side Access project that will bring trains from Long Island into both Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station.
“Starting in September and October and November, they’re going to do a massive hiring on the Long Island Rail Road for the East Side Access,” Simon said. “We could have hundreds and hundreds of people hired.”
The MTA pushed back, with Lisberg saying, “This sounds like another bizarre attempt by these unions to change the subject from their refusal to compromise. Their claims are absolutely false and they should put their efforts into negotiating a solution rather than inventing false claims.”
Lisberg argued that LIRR workers have it extremely good as it is.
“Make no mistake – working for the LIRR is a good job. You pay nothing for your health plan, and you get two pensions. We’re offering them a 17 percent raise, a very modest 2 percent contribution to paying for health care. For new employees, you pay 4 percent to health care, and you’d have to contribute to your pension for your whole career, not just the first 10 years,” he said.
The MTA said ticket prices could go up if unions do not agree to concessions. The union did make a counterproposal, but the exact details of that counteroffer have not been released.
Both sides have charged that the other is not willing to budge.
“They haven’t moved at all,” Prendergast said Monday after talks with the unions broke down. “Until they’re ready to move, there’s no reason to have negotiations.”
“The MTA is causing this,” Simon said Monday. “There is no way, shape or form that the unions want to do this.”
No New Negotiations Set Between MTA, LIRR Unions As Workers Prepare For Strike
The unions have been working without a contract since 2010.
Simon 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.
Commuters are worried.
As CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider reported, commuters were growing more anxious Tuesday night.
“It’s crazy because I already bought my monthly,” said Sara Habib of Hicksville. “I pay $276, so it’s insane.”
Some riders were not sympathetic to the LIRR unions’ complaints
“Right now, I pay for a portion of my health care, and I think workers should pay a little bit of theirs too,” said Scott Tangney of Rockville Centre.
While the two sides stay far apart, commuters are forced to make other plans.
Habib said she would have to drive, but the Long Island Expressway would be “slammed.”
She said she was “super nervous, but it’s your only option. There are no other choices.”
Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said a strike would be a “devastating blow to a region still struggling to recover from Superstorm Sandy and the recession.”
“Both sides must go the extra mile to reach a reasonable settlement so we can avoid the costly impact of a strike and the millions of dollars in lost economic activity,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
DiNapoli said his projection is based on LIRR ridership information as well as census and economic data.
The unions want Gov. Andrew Cuomo to get involved, but there’s no word yet from Albany on whether that will happen. Cuomo has said he has no plans to intervene.
Congress has also said it will not step in to broker a deal to avert a strike.
“Remember, this is a Republican congress that actually shut down the entire federal government for 16 days last October. I do not believe that the same Republican congress would be willing to take up a resolution to avoid a shutdown of a railroad on Long Island,” Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) told WCBS 880’s Mike Xirinachs.
He said the two sides need to “stay at the table and negotiate.”
If a deal isn’t reached by the July 20 deadline, the MTA has put a contingency plan in place. Options for commuters include shuttle buses, ferries and car pools, but officials are also urging people to telecommute if possible.
Nancy Silvestri with New York City’s Office of Emergency Management says the Department of Transportation is also getting ready for additional drivers on the road.
“The DOT is focusing on measures to keep traffic moving along major roadways in Queens and Brooklyn into Manhattan as part of its efforts to minimize impacts on New Yorkers using city streets,” she said. “Measures could include HOV lane and alternate side parking adjustments.”
One of the contingency plans includes park-and-rides to certain subway lines, which would mean more riders in New York City’s subway system.
“We’re telling people to park and ride at Citi Field for the 7 Train, and at Aqueduct for the A Train,” Lisberg said. “We’re careful to pick locations where there is some extra capacity on trains in the morning.”
But as WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported, the E and F lines are already operated near capacity, so the prospect of adding LIRR commuters isn’t pleasant.
“It’s already cluttered, especially in the morning (with) people going to work,” said Malik, who was catching an F train at Queens Plaza. “So there’d be no way to get on the train or travel with that many people.”
As 1010 WINS’ Derricke Dennis reported, LIRR riders were not thrilled about taking the subway either, and one said she would rather just stay home.
Lisberg said there is only so much the MTA can do.
“It’s going to be crowded on some trains, and we’re going to have some extra trains staged to put into the lineup if we need them,” he said.
Lisberg admitted some lines can’t handle extra capacity.
For more on the MTA’s contingency plan, click here.
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