LIRR unions mull latest MTA contract offer

Commuters get off a Long Island Railroad train Commuters get off a Long Island Railroad train after it pulled into the Huntington LIRR station on July 25, 2012. The MTA and rail labor organizations are meeting Monday, April 21, 2014, with final contract offers. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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The MTA put a new offer on the table Monday in its heated contract dispute with 5,800 Long Island Rail Road union workers threatening to strike this summer.

The offer, which a Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman said was based on a deal reached last week with union subway and bus workers, came during the first day of a hearing held by a White House-appointed board of labor mediators tasked with helping to resolve the four-year labor tussle.

"We have the offer. Our economists are looking at it," said Anthony Simon, general chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union/United Transportation Union. "Until we get all those numbers worked out, we really can't comment on it."

Neither MTA nor union officials gave specifics on the new offer, but it is modeled after the one accepted by the Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents more than 34,000 transit laborers, MTA spokesman Salvatore Arena said.

That deal, which still has to be ratified by union members, calls for raises totaling about 8 percent over six years, increased employee health care cost contributions, and new health benefits.

"The MTA believes that this offer should be the one that leads to a voluntary settlement of the issues," Arena said.

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At the hearing Monday before Presidential Emergency Board 245, LIRR union representatives said their best offer is still the contract recommended by a first mediation board appointed by President Barack Obama in November. That plan called for 17 percent raises over six years.

But Simon, chief negotiator for the largest coalition of LIRR workers, did not reject the MTA's new offer outright.

"Getting in the same room and trying to work together is always productive," Simon said. "Once it's over, we'll be able to absorb what they're actually offering."

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LIRR unions have been working without a contract since June 2010. The MTA had previously demanded that workers accept a three-year wage freeze or offer givebacks totaling that same amount, such as eliminating some work rules that guarantee employees extra wages for certain assignments.

The presidential board, composed of three veteran labor arbitrators, met for nearly six hours with union and MTA representatives behind closed doors at the New York Marriott East Side. Both sides submitted final offers and made opening statements, and then LIRR union witnesses spent several hours making their case.

The board reconvenes this morning, with the MTA presenting its case.

The board will issue a report to Obama by May 20 in which it will choose what it considers the most reasonable final offer presented at the hearing, which could last until Wednesday. The board's ruling is not binding.

If no resolution is reached, the unions have said they will go on strike as early as July, potentially stranding some 300,000 daily commuters.

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