With a Long Island Rail Road worker strike deadline two months away, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its LIRR labor unions officially remain far apart, but sources say the two sides are moving closer toward a compromise that might avert a work stoppage that could leave commuters stranded come July.
This week the MTA, LIRR President Helena Williams and heads of the LIRR’s largest collective bargaining units have been meeting behind closed doors at the Marriott Hotel in Manhattan at the behest of the second Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) empanelled by President Barack Obama to resolve their differences and work out a new deal. LIRR workers have gone four years without a contract.
“We believe the proceedings associated with another Presidential Emergency Board would be valuable to moving the current dispute towards a resolution,” a dozen members of Congress from both parties on LI and New York City wrote in a joint letter to MTA CEO Thomas Prendergast two weeks after the first PEB, urging the agency “to reconsider its decision to entirely reject the recommendations.”
Members of two local chapters of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union/United Transportation Union (SMART), which represents 2,700 LIRR workers including conductors, train mechanics and cleaners, had voted unanimously in February in favor of going on strike.
After calling for a new PEB, the MTA appears to be moving toward a compromise with the LIRR’s labor unions. The meeting is closed to the media, but news reports suggest that the two sides are nearer to finding a middle ground.
The union representatives were reportedly pressing for a 17-percent raise spread over six years, which was the contract recommendation from the previous PEB. The MTA had wanted the workers to accept a three-year wage freeze or offer concessions in work rules and other givebacks that would cover any increases. But, the MTA is now offering an 11-percent raise spread over six years, according to Newsday.
The MTA’s latest offer comes a week after Gov. Andrew Cuomo worked out a deal with the Transit Workers Union, which represents the New York City’s bus and subway workers, for an 8-percent raise over five years. The governor, who is running for re-election this fall, announced the tentative deal in his Manhattan office while appearing with TWU Local President John Samuels and Prendergast. As for the LIRR contract, Cuomo has officially been mum.
Neither representatives for the LIRR nor SMART commented about the latest round of negotiations. The PEB is supposed to deliver its nonbinding recommendation by May 20. An LIRR worker strike would be their first in 20 years.