MTA officials said Tuesday the agency will pay more than 5,000 Long Island Rail Road workers 17 percent raises over seven years -- instead of the six that federal mediators recommended -- only if unions sacrifice some wages and benefits for future employees.
Rather than bringing the two sides closer, the LIRR unions' lead negotiator Anthony Simon said the MTA's latest proposal, which will be discussed at a Friday negotiation session, has set back efforts to avoid a July 20 strike, because it attempts to turn union workers against each other.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority labor relations director Anita Miller said Tuesday the MTA's latest offer in its four-year-long contract dispute with eight LIRR unions gives workers, whose annual pay averages $85,000, "everything they have repeatedly said they would accept" -- namely 17 percent raises, a new $10-per-shift payment to federally certified conductors, and employee health care cost contributions capped at 2 percent of weekly wages.
But the MTA's proposed contract is different in many ways from that recommended by two separate federal mediation boards and demanded by the unions. The raises would be spread over seven years, instead of six, and require major union concessions involving future employees.
Any LIRR workers hired after the contract is ratified would have to work twice as many years to achieve top pay, would contribute 4 percent of weekly wages to health care costs -- or twice as much as previously hired workers -- and would have to permanently contribute toward their pensions. Current LIRR workers only do so their first 10 years.
Miller said the changes to future employees' wages and benefit structures are necessary for the MTA to be able to afford the new raises over the long term.
"It's our strong desire that they not only show up, but they negotiate," Miller said. "This offer is fair and reasonable and . . . it gives the unions everything that they've asked for."
But Simon said the offer "isn't what the unions want."
The total value of the MTA's seven-year contract offer is worth 44 percent of the total value of the six-year pact recommended by two Presidential Emergency Boards, he said, adding the percentage was calculated by the unions' economist. Because the wage increase would be spread out over an extra year, Simon said the proposal essentially asks workers to give up a year of raises altogether.
He said labor leaders were "absolutely outraged" that the MTA would make public its offer before formally discussing it with all the unions Friday. The proposal was informally discussed with Simon at June 13 talks, which ended without acceptance of the deal, but it was formally sent to all of the unions Monday evening.
"They're looking to turn the members against the future of this railroad," Simon said. "Now everyone should be suspect of their real intention. That is to provoke a strike."
Meanwhile, Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray and elected officials Tuesday derided an MTA strike contingency plan to bus LIRR commuters, saying it would have a devastating impact on the town.
The plan includes seven locations on Long Island for commuters to take shuttle buses to New York City subway stops. Four of those are in the Town of Hempstead -- LIRR stations in Seaford, Bellmore and Freeport and Nassau Community College in Garden City.
Murray said the "herding" of rail commuters to the three LIRR stations, with only about 3,775 total parking spaces, would overwhelm communities.
In a statement, MTA spokesman Salvatore Arena said the agency continues to work with Long Island government officials to develop its strike plan, but "realistically, there is no way to replace the Long Island Rail Road."