LIRR unions invite MTA back to negotiating table

The tracks and power lines reflect the afternoon The tracks and power lines reflect the afternoon light at the Mineola LIRR train station on March 4, 2011. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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The unions representing most Long Island Rail Road workers in a letter to MTA managers Tuesday requested that both sides -- at an impasse over wages and other issues -- come back to the negotiating table to stave off a strike that could come as early as next month.

The letter, sent by a coalition representing the three largest labor organizations involved in the ongoing contract dispute, noted that the unions have not formally heard from Metropolitan Transportation Authority negotiators since December, when the union reached out days after a board of mediators appointed by President Barack Obama recommended that the MTA give LIRR workers raises.

"You replied that MTA did not agree with the Board's recommendations, and that the MTA had not yet decided whether it made sense to meet to negotiate," said the letter, sent to MTA labor relations director Anita Miller. "To date our coalition had not been contacted by you or anyone else from MTA or Long Island Rail Road to schedule meetings."

In a statement responding to the letter, MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said the agency "remains hopeful" it can resolve the dispute through negotiations but suggested the Presidential Emergency Board's recommendations could not be a starting point for future talks.

"We look forward to future discussions with our labor partners in which every issue under consideration is on the table for negotiation," Lisberg said.

The eight unions representing about 5,600 of the LIRR's 6,000 workers have been without a contract since June 2010 and could legally strike March 21 unless the MTA requests a second Presidential Emergency Board to help resolve the dispute. That would put off a strike until at least July.

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"Right now, in my opinion, we should be locked up in a room trying to figure out how to not inconvenience the riding public -- how we can come to an agreement that does not cause a strike on March 21," Anthony Simon, general chairman of the United Transportation Unions, the LIRR's largest labor organization, said Tuesday. "Labor does not want that."

The MTA has said it needs the unions to agree to "three net zeros" -- a three-year freeze on total labor costs. Workers could get raises, but only if they were funded through other concessions. Without such an agreement, MTA officials have said a 2015 fare increase of 4.5 percent in 2015 could instead be as high as 12 percent.

Simon accused the MTA of "scare tactics." He noted that in its recommendation, issued after a weeklong hearing in which MTA management and LIRR unions presented their cases, the Obama-appointed board concluded that the MTA could afford to give workers raises of 2.83 percent over six years without having to raise fares.

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