The Metropolitan Transit Authority started running ads on nine different radio stations this week to promote their side of the negotiations with Long Island Rail Road workers for a new contract.
“Unionized Long Island Rail Road workers are the best paid in the nation,” says the ad’s narrator. “They make almost $90,000 a year, get free health care and generous pensions. 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. Current employees would get everything they asked for. Yet the unions are still threatening to strike. When is enough enough? Get all the facts at mta.info.”
As New Yorkers prepare themselves for a potential LIRR workers strike, the two sides involved don’t seem to be budging on their demands. With President Barack Obama slated to come into town Thursday, the potential lies for the national spotlight to be shined on this latest public transportation blow up.
International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Long Island Rail Road General Chairperson Anthony Simon issued a statement.
“I regret to report that negotiations have collapsed with New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and all eight unions are now proceeding with strike plans for July 20,” read Simon’s statement. “MTA rejected the counter offer we presented last Thursday (July 10). It presented no counter proposal. It continues to insist that the unions agree to a contract worth less than the value of the compromise recommendations of two Presidential Emergency Boards (244 and 245). MTA has clearly decided that provoking a strike is the course of action it intends to pursue. No further negotiations are scheduled.”
The strike would begin at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, July 20.
The dispute has been slowly burning for four years, with the United Transportation Union seeking 17 percent in raises over six years and no concessions for future workers and the MTA proposing a 17 percent increase over seven years and concessions involving the benefits and wages of future workers. White House-appointed arbitration panels have recommended the union’s route.
Contingency plans, if a strike should happen, include free shuttle buses from LIRR stations during a.m. and p.m. peaks (4-7 a.m. and 3-7 p.m.), free park and ride setups at places like Citi Field and the Aqueduct Race Track, the suspension of non-emergency highway work and the encouragement of carpooling from several Long Island state parks (Hempstead Lake State Park, Valley Stream State Park, etc.).
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo attempted to put the onus on Congress to step in and resolve the labor dispute, but D.C. threw the hot potato back up north. For the moment, Cuomo is leaving it in the hands of the MTA and the union to resolve matters.
“The Long Island Rail Road is a critical transportation system for Long Island and New York City,” said Cuomo in a statement released on Wednesday. “We must do everything we can to prevent Long Islanders from being held hostage by a strike that would damage the regional economy and be highly disruptive for commuters. Both the MTA and the LIRR unions need to put the interests of New Yorkers first by returning to the table today and working continuously to avoid a strike.”
If Cuomo does get involved in the dispute, he can look to what his father did 20 years ago. In 1994, Mario Cuomo–then governor of New York–got involved in a contract dispute between the MTA and LIRR during an election year and eventually helped bridge the gap between the two parties after a two-day strike. But this didn’t keep him in office, as he lost his reelection bid to Republican challenger George Pataki and didn’t receive many votes in Nassau and Suffolk county. Andrew Cuomo might be cautious in an election year, but that doesn’t mean his challenger, Rob Astorino, won’t egg him on.
During a radio interview on a station in Albany, Astorino called out Cuomo for not getting involved in the dispute.
“He basically said to Long Islanders, ‘Go to hell. It’s not my job,’” said Astorino. “To make that kind of comment is just unbelievable, that he would say it’s not his job when it was apparently his job when the same people were negotiating a different contract in New York City for the subway and bus workers,” Astorino said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is starting to feel the heat despite not having the ability to control the outcome of negotiations. The mayor still plans to go on vacation in Italy with his family (and some aides) on Friday. According to his staff he will be going away for eight days and 20.5 hours. When asked about postponing or pushing back his trip, de Blasio said he planned on going and trusted the protocol in place if a strike were to happen. He has also held out hope of a resolved situation before Sunday.
“I hope everyone will continue talking,” the mayor said during a recent news conference. “I think that’s the way forward. We certainly found that in our labor relations in the city. The more we talked, the more we found a pathway to resolution. In the event there is a strike, the contingency plans are very, very strong. We benefit from the fact it’s July, and I think the amount of travel is reduced in July.
“We benefit from the fact that a lot of people now, because of technology, can work from home,” continued de Blasio. “And I imagine if that event comes to pass, a lot of people will work from home who live in Long Island. So I think the contingency plans are very, very strong.”
No matter where New Yorkers stand on the issue, all New York Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli knows is that an LIRR workers strike would cost the region tens of millions of dollars (up to $50 million by his estimates) in economic activity daily.
“A LIRR strike would cause headaches and financial hardships for riders and businesses,” said DiNapoli in a statement. “It would also be another devastating blow to a region that is 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.”
DiNapoli’s projected numbers are based on LIRR ridership information, census data and economic data. The comptroller said that an estimated 300,000 riders rely on LIRR every day when traveling between Long Island and New York City and within the island for work, shopping and tourism.
With the potential strike happening right in the middle of peak tourism season for Long Island and New York City, any slowdown in public transportation would produce significant gridlock and traffic—and maybe the good will that local politicians have built up with citizens.