A White House-mandated mediation session between MTA managers and LIRR unions extends into a fourth day Thursday, with negotiators on both sides trying to broker a deal to avert shutting down the nation's largest commuter railroad this summer.
Presidential Emergency Board 245 officially concluded three days of hearings Wednesday, a day marked by intensified talks between negotiators on both sides. A small group of board arbitrators and key negotiators from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Long Island Rail Road unions will reconvene Thursday in Manhattan for a special executive session.
Officials on both sides said they hope the extra day of closed-door meetings will prove fruitful.
MTA labor relations director Anita Miller said the authority intends to keep working until "we either reach an agreement or we hit the self-help deadline."
That "self-help deadline" would come on July 19, when 5,800 LIRR laborers could legally walk off their jobs without a contract in place.
At issue is the size of wage increases in a new six-year contract. LIRR unions want the MTA to abide by the recommendations of an earlier Presidential board, which called for raises totaling 17 percent. The MTA is pushing for LIRR laborers to accept the terms of a deal reached last week with subway and bus workers. It would give them 11 percent raises.
Wednesday, union and MTA personnel in dark suits huddled in a hotel ballroom on Manhattan's East Side, dissecting documents and making mathematical calculations.
"There were people talking, but people were not moving," one union source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said of that hearing. "They were putting their hands out, but were recoiling them, not wanting to give anything up."
Union sources said one key debate focused on the financial value of some other perks promised to Transport Workers Union members, including a systemwide MTA pass that would let transit workers ride any bus or train for free.
Having run out of time Wednesday to deliver closing arguments to the three-member presidential board, both sides will submit them in writing by next Wednesday. The board is expected to issue its nonbinding recommendation on a fair contract by May 20.