No Deal Yet Between LIRR And Unions

Staff Writer

Days before a possible LIRR strike would commence, negotiations between the MTA and LIRR workers came to a standstill Monday.

The strike would begin Sunday at 12:01 a.m. and would impact about 300,000 commuters. According to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a strike could cost $50 million in lost economic activity daily.

Rush hour at the Bayside liRR station days before a possible strike. PHOTO BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE.

Rush hour at the Bayside liRR station days before a possible
strike. PHOTO BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE.At a press conference after Monday’s negotiations with labor leaders broke down in only 45 minutes, MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast said that there is a “gulf” between the parties. The MTA’s latest offer at that point, according to Prendergast, was a contract with a 17 percent pay raise over seven years and workers beginning to contribute to their health care – future employees would contribute more than those who already work for the LIRR. Future employees would also have to work twice as long as current employees to achieve full pay.

“They haven’t moved at all – slightly, very smally [sic] from their position. Until they’re ready to move, there’s no reason to have negotiations,” Prendergast said.

Negotiations reportedly resumed on Wednesday afternoon, after prodding from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Last Friday, the MTA released a contingency plan for commuters in the case of an LIRR strike. Three hundred and fifty buses are planned for service between eight locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties to the Citi Field, Howard Beach and Woodhaven Boulevard stations in Queens.

Citi Field would also have 4,000 dedicated park-and-ride spots available and Aqueduct Racetrack will have 3,000. A free ferry service is planned from Glen Cove to East 34th Street in Manhattan.

Prendergast acknowledged that no contingency plan would be able to accommodate all of the LIRR’s regular capacity.

“You cannot replace the LIRR,” he said. Whitestone resident Mimi Burnham said that she uses the LIRR several times a week to commute to her job as a bartender in Manhattan. In the case of a strike, she said she would take the bus to the 7 train to get to work.

“I’m just preparing for the worst, throwing in another two hours [to my commute],” Burnham said. Burnham also said that although she is pro-union, “I don’t think the people are with them on this one,” citing dirty trains and the “abysmal” state of some LIRR stations. Ahmed Iftikhar runs the S & W Coffee Shop at the LIRR Bayside station. He said he is worried about the imminent strike.

“I have no other business – nothing,” Iftikhar said. “I depend upon them, the people who walk around here. I have no option.” With negotiations collapsed, the MTA and labor have tossed blame back and forth.

In a statement released after Monday’s failed negotiations, chief labor spokesman Anthony Simon wrote, “make no mistake about it. The timing of this strike, with its devastating impact on Long Island’s summer season, is MTA’s decision. The unions repeated our offer to agree to…delay the strike until September. MTA would not agree.”

The MTA began running print and radio advertisements on Wednesday that assert, “unionized Long Island Rail Road workers are the best paid in the nation…the MTA offered to up their salary 17 percent without raising fares or delaying service improvements, by making modest changes for workers who haven’t even been hired yet.” “Yet the unions are still threatening to strike. When is enough enough?” the advertisement continues.

Bayside resident Sally Hastings said she takes the LIRR to meet up with her husband, while her son takes it every day to commute to Manhattan. “I feel bad for the people that count on it to go to work,” Hastings said. “With the economy and jobs – it’s just very bad timing.”

Although Cuomo has previously stated that an LIRR strike is “not an option,” he said Tuesday that a strike is “a real pain maybe, but not a disaster.”

Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718)357-7400, Ext. 128, or @JNStrawbridge.