Editorial: New hope, for now, in LIRR impasse

LIRR customers board a train at Penn Station LIRR customers board a train at Penn Station on Dec. 20, 2013. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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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.

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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.

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