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Queens Chronicle

LIRR, unions on the brink of a strike

Congress will not intervene if unions walk out July 20 over pay, benefits

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Posted: Thursday, July 10, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 9:59 am, Thu Jul 17, 2014.

Gov. Cuomo called for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the unions representing more than 5,400 Long Island Rail Road workers to get back to the bargaining table after Congress announced in Wednesday that it would not intervene to end a pending strike.

The four unions, which conductors and track workers, car inspectors, maintenance and repair workers and others, have been without a contract since 2010.

A strike, which could take place as early as July 20, would leave about 300,000 passengers per day seeking alternative transportation.

“I want to thank the New York State Congressional delegation for making it abundantly clear today that Congress will not act to bring about a labor settlement at the Long Island Rail Road,” Cuomo said in a statement issued by his office on Wednesday.

“The unions’ false belief that Congress would step in and mandate a settlement was a major impediment to any real progress,” Cuomo added. With this obstacle removed, it is now clear that the only path to a resolution is at the bargaining table between the MTA and the unions, and that they should proceed in good faith.”

LIRR unions, governed under the Federal Railway Labor Act, have the right to strike, unlike other transit workers who come under the MTA umbrella.

The unions, collectively under the Sheet Metal, Air Rail Transit, or SMART, umbrella, are seeking 17 percent raises over six years; the MTA is offering seven years.

The MTA also wants existing workers, who now pay nothing for health benefits, to contribute 2.4 percent of their salaries, and new hires to pay 4 percent.

The unions are asking for the MTA to accept the recommendation of two federal mediation panels that have proposed labor’s offer.

Union representatives could not be reached, but did have a statement on their website.

“Union members ask nothing more than for what both these neutral federal boards have already recommended,” the statement said. “SMART and its partner unions have no interest in a work stoppage that would hurt the Long Island Railroad riders and small businesses dependent on tourism during the summer months.”

MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast, who met with congressional leaders in Washington on Wednesday, said they will begin informing commuters about plans for dealing with any potential travel disruptions.

“We continue to hope that we can avoid a work stoppage at the bargaining table,” Prendergast said in a statement released Wednesday. “But nevertheless, we want LIRR customers and all Long Island residents to be aware that there is a potential for a disruption of service and what that might mean.”

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