LIRR unions, supporters rally in Massapequa for new contract

An LIRR union rally at the Massapequa station drew more than 2,000 workers and their supporters on Saturday, June 21, 2014. A day after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced contingency plans for the looming July 20 strike deadline, labor leaders at the rally said the time for compromise is over. (Credit: Newsday / Chuck Fadely)

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More than 2,000 Long Island Rail Road union workers and supporters rallied in Massapequa Saturday, sending a loud message to the MTA and the governor that the time for compromise is over.

With passing trains blaring their horns and crew members applauding from train windows, the crowd of riled-up railroad laborers gathered in the parking lot of the LIRR's Massapequa station. Many in the crowd held signs saying "We Deserve a Fair Contract."

"We're going to fight until you get what you deserve," head LIRR union negotiator Anthony Simon said, scowling and yelling until his voice went hoarse. "This is a day that Albany is going to hear us."

The rally, held four weeks before a July 20 strike deadline, showcased LIRR's labor force at its most outraged and defiant since its last contract lapsed four years ago.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which made a new offer on June 13, says it wants the unions to compromise.

But union leaders made it clear Saturday they would settle for nothing less than a six-year contract with 17 percent in raises, as recommended by two federal mediation boards.

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"No more delays. No compromises. Sign or we strike," Bob Scardeletti, president of the Transportation Communication Union, told the crowd. "We will accept no less."

Other LIRR labor leaders were similarly adamant. Ricardo Sanchez, general chairman of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 589 promised that unions will "shut this Island down" if they don't get what they want.

"We're going to make sure it doesn't move," Sanchez said.

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg called the vow "absolutely unconscionable."

"Most people on Long Island facing these threats to shut them down would urge the unions to come to the table and be willing to compromise. That's what we want to do."

The rally was attended by several federal, state and local lawmakers, all of whom pledged their support for the union workers. With the crowd chanting "Extend! Extend!" some elected officials blasted the MTA's unwillingness so far to accept a union offer to postpone the strike deadline until September.

Others rebuked the MTA's preliminary strike contingency plan, which includes sparse shuttle bus service and asks commuters to stay home. Babylon Town Supervisor Richard Schaffer, also the Suffolk County Democratic Party chairman, called the plan "an incompetent mess."

Among the throngs of LIRR workers -- some wearing conductors' uniforms -- Andy, a signalman who declined to give his last name, said he only wants a "fair" and "reasonable" contract and would take no joy in walking off the job.

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"We're all looking at losing money," he said. "We all need to put food on the table."

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