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Long Island

As LIRR strike deadline looms, commuters worried, anxious, angry

Commuters during rush hour at Penn Station on

Commuters during rush hour at Penn Station on Tuesday, July 15, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Worry, anxiety and even anger are riding the rails with Long Island commuters as a deadline looms for a Long Island Rail Road strike this weekend, threatening to halt the busiest commuter train system in the country.

Passengers are scoping out other ways to get to work, school and medical appointments; rescheduling commitments; and in many cases just holding out hope that negotiators will strike a deal before midnight Sunday.

"I have to be able to rely on the MTA schedule," said Phil Greco, 35, a Middle Island resident studying for a doctorate at Columbia University who takes the train and makes child-care arrangements around commuting plans. "People willing to watch children can't just change their whole schedule around, so that leaves me figuring out how we're going to work this out."

Peter Villano, 55, a construction worker from Ronkonkoma, said he may have to carpool to Manhattan with the buddies who join him in taking the 4:06 a.m. train to Penn Station.

They'd have to leave around 3:30 a.m. to make it.

"We count on this to get to work every day," he said, waving toward the train with a cigarette in one hand. "This is our living; this is our bread and butter. Without the train systems, we have nothing."

He had plenty of company Tuesday among commuters mulling a strike's impact.


Andrew Davis, 31, sheet metal worker

Would drive, despite the cost

Davis, a Seaford resident, is a sheet metal worker who commutes five days a week to job sites in Manhattan, leaving the station at 3:55 a.m. to ensure he arrives before 6. If the strike happens, he'll have to drive in, leaving around the same time.

"I rely on the train to get to the city," he said. "That's how I make my money."

Driving will be costly, he said: $25 per day for parking, plus gas and other fees. And it comes at a bad time. Engaged to be married, he and his fiancee are trying to plan not only for a wedding but for a new life together, maybe in a house on Long Island.



Cirilo Umaña, 43, food preparer

Doesn't know how he'll get to work

Umaña and his wife were waiting in Huntington Station for an eastbound train in the early afternoon Tuesday, as they headed to a Port Jefferson restaurant where they work the afternoon-to-night shift.

That is what they do every day, five days a week, he said, to prepare food in the kitchen before rush hour. They and several co-workers would not have a way of getting to work and back home without the LIRR.

The strike, he said in Spanish, "is a bad idea."

"We need the service," added Umaña, a Northport resident. "I don't know why they want to have a strike, but it's going to hurt us for sure."

If there's a strike, Umaña said, he and his wife would likely go without pay as long as it lasted.



Elaine Gosselin, 57, real estate title searcher

May stay with a friend in the city

Gosselin, a Babylon resident who is self-employed, is seething and has no sympathy for the railroad workers.

"I don't even have health insurance. I am mad," she said. "I don't think they [railroad workers] are justified. No one is getting raises today."

Gosselin said she is upset that both sides have not been able to come to agreement and "are playing this out to the end," which "is not showing any consideration for the rest of us."

Gosselin, who lived through one such strike, said many people aren't yet aware of the impending problems and that "if this happens there is going to be a lot of angry people" on Monday.

She said she "can't afford to take a vacation" and "may have to move in with a friend in the city" to ride out the strike.



Cynthia Reitman, photographer

Concerned she'll have to stay home

Reitman said her daughter "had a dry run" to figure out how she would get to college in Manhattan on Monday if the trains stop running, taking buses from their Great Neck home to New York City.

They figured it would take her daughter an hour and 45 minutes -- an hour longer than usual -- to complete her commute, but Reitman doesn't know how she could get to her job as a photographer of newborn babies at Huntington Hospital.

"If I have to depend on cab fares, I might not even think about work" because of the cost, Reitman said.

As a supporter of workers' rights, Reitman finds herself conflicted about the contract impasse and potential strike.

"I'm anxious about it, but I don't want to see workers taken advantage of," she said. "I hope everyone is thinking conscientiously about the effects, and not just what they want."

She is staying positive, Reitman said, hoping for an agreement even if it comes "at the golden hour."



Sera Kolat, 21, John Jay student

May stay with grandparents in Queens

Kolat, who commutes from Seaford to John Jay College of Criminal Justice near Columbus Circle in Manhattan, is struggling to find an alternative plan to make it there. Compounding her worry is that the strike will take place just in time for her final exams, scheduled for 8 a.m. next Wednesday and Friday.

Kolat might stay with her grandparents in Jamaica, Queens, until the stalemate ends.

"I'm a little frustrated," she said, pulling an earbud from her left ear. "It's my week of finals: lots of chemistry and math."

Kolat said her commute normally takes an hour and 20 minutes -- and costs $300 per month, including subway fares.

The commute takes commitment, she said, but is worth the effort as she studies forensic science with plans to someday become a medical examiner.



Kenneth Cloghessy, 30, cement truck driver

Would stay in apartment close to work

Cloghessy, a cement truck driver for 12 years and a self-described union man from Franklin Square, believes that railroad workers "have every right to strike" because "17 percent over six years is not a lot."

"A lot of locals would have folded already," added Cloghessy, who has no reservations about supporting his union brothers. "I come from a three-generation union family that provided my family with a living wage. We are the American middle class. I was born and raised to believe that if you work hard you should be able to make a fair wage and be able to support your family."

Cloghessy, however, is not sure how he will get to work if there is a strike: "My commute will be crazy. I will probably have to stay in an apartment in Long Island City. But that's part of the struggle."



Andrew Freeman, 41, construction worker

Worried about riding buses

Freeman, of Amityville, said he's been riding the train since 1981. He commutes mostly to Bellmore and Seaford to visit friends, get a haircut or take a trip to the library.

Freeman, who said he has struggled with bipolar disorder, said the train allows him to socialize, which is important for his mental health.

He's upset about the potential strike, saying workers should be grateful for their pay and for job stability. Freeman works sporadically in construction.

"The guy who punches tickets should be happy with the amount he's getting," he said.

And he's concerned about taking the bus; the motion can cause him to feel sick, he said.

"I'm 100 percent worried," he said. "If I go into Manhattan, how am I going to get back?"



Adam Zimmer, 41, taxi driver

Would find himself without work

Zimmer is looking at prospects of going from 15 to 20 fare rides a day to "maybe none" if the LIRR strike takes place.

People who get off the trains at the Huntington Station stop and need a connecting ride home or to other places are his livelihood, he said.

"If the train is not running, I don't know how I'm going to pay my bills," said Zimmer, a Greenlawn resident.

He's hoping negotiators from both sides are just bluffing, as they have before.

"It hasn't really hit me" what this could mean, he said. "I will be very angry . . . Monday morning if there's no train."



Christopher Clark, 41, carpenter

Must find a way to get to work

Clark, of New Hyde Park, said he has no options. He has to show up to work. The carpenter with Local 157 said: "I'll find a way. I just don't know what the options are right now. We only have one car, and my fiancee needs it to get to her job."

Clark said he's taking the days leading up to a possible strike in stride, but thinks that the MTA could afford to meet the demands of the railroad workers, given the many riders they have.

"When you think about it, I pay $260 a month to commute to work," he said. "The MTA is holding back and that doesn't make sense."

His cousin Ryan Pitten, 21, of Westbury, is a laborer with Local 6A. He said if he can't get to work he will "get laid off," but he said of railroad workers "that people need to stand up for themselves, because if they don't they will get walked all over."



Laurel Cole, 22, car rental company employee

Would rent a car

She's not looking forward to a LIRR strike, but Cole could have one advantage over her fellow train commuters: She is perfectly situated to rent a car.

The Stony Brook student from Queens takes the train once a week for a summer class. The rest of the week, she works full-time at a car rental company in Manhattan.

Cole said she would rent from her company and benefit from an employee discount. Still, she said, she is dreading the traffic.

"I'm probably going to be stressed, but there's nothing I can do," said the psychology major, who expects to finish her degree at the end of the summer. "I'm sure my professors are going to understand."



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