With time running short to avert a crippling Long Island Rail Road strike, it's encouraging that both sides in the standoff have accepted the National Mediation Board's invitation to talk.
It's time to stop the chest-thumping and get serious about finding a deal on pay and work rules. Nobody wins if a strike -- perhaps as early as March 21 -- stops the railroad in its tracks. The people who buy 335,000 rides daily would be the biggest losers.
The LIRR's 6,000 unionized workers have been without a contract since June 2010. After a weeklong hearing in December, a panel of mediators appointed by President Barack Obama recommended raises averaging 2.83 percent a year for six years. The LIRR's largest labor organization, the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union-United Transportation Union, accepted the deal. MTA officials did not. They want work rule concessions to help cover the cost of pay hikes.
The Feb. 27-28 meeting with the National Mediation Board, an agency formed under the Federal Railway Act, will be the first face-to-face session since December. If no deal is reached, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority or Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo could ask Obama to appoint a second board of mediators. That would put off a strike until at least July. But without more flexibility by all concerned, that would merely delay the inevitable.
Union and MTA officials both say they want a negotiated settlement. They need to find that sweet spot to keep the trains running.