Subway workers' pact weakens LIRR unions' leverage with MTA
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Subway workers' overwhelming approval of a new contract Monday could help push Long Island Rail Road workers closer to a July strike because the deal has weakened their bargaining power with the MTA, a union source said.
The Transport Workers Union Local 100, representing 34,000 New York City Transit employees, Monday ratified a five-year deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority by a vote of 12,458-2,681. The 82.2 percent who voted for the deal was unprecedented for the union, Local 100 president John Samuelson said.
The agreement, which assures raises of 8 percent, is the basis for the MTA's latest proposal to LIRR unions that have been without a contract for four years. But LIRR union leaders have rejected the offer, which calls for raises of 11 percent over six years.
An LIRR union source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the TWU's approval of the contract increases the likelihood of a railroad strike, as LIRR unions have lost some leverage at the bargaining table.
"The MTA is going to dig their heels in now," said the source, adding that the subway workers' ratification gave the MTA's case "validity."
Without an agreement in place, 6,000 LIRR workers could legally strike as early as July 20, stranding some 300,000 daily riders who use the nation's largest commuter railroad.
The LIRR unions have said the MTA's proposed contract is worth far less to LIRR workers than to subway workers, who will see several new perks that would not benefit railroad workers, including free rides on the LIRR. Railroad workers would also see a far bigger increase in employee health benefit contributions than transit workers will under the contract.
The unions have demanded that the MTA accept the more lucrative terms of a White House-appointed mediation board, which in December called for 17 percent raises for workers, and smaller health care cost contributions.
A second Presidential Emergency Board was set to issue its recommendation for a fair LIRR contract Tuesday, just 60 days before a strike could be called.
Losing the presidential board's support a day after subway workers ratified their contract would be a "worst-case scenario," the union source said. "That would definitely lead to a collision course."
MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said the agency hopes the board will agree that the TWU-based offer to the LIRR is "the fair and reasonable alternative to resolve contract issues with the LIRR unions." The MTA says it plans to resume negotiations with the LIRR immediately after the board issues its ruling.
"We hope to be able to resolve the LIRR dispute at the bargaining table, just as we did with the TWU," Lisberg said.
Samuelson Monday said he believes that the value of the TWU's new contract, which he estimated to be worth $647 million, was close to that of the earlier presidential board's recommended contract. However, he declined to weigh in on the merits of either side's current proposals for an LIRR agreement.
"I'm the president of the TWU Local 100. I'm not the president of the Long Island Rail Road coalition," Samuelson said. "We have long-standing benefit issues that the Long Island Rail Road folks didn't have."
Anthony Simon, general chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union/United Transportation Union, the LIRR's largest labor organization, said the MTA "has not given us enough information" about its offer to know its true value. But, he said, the offer on the table does not include all the terms of the TWU deal.