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Congressmen urge MTA to reconsider LIRR raise

Commuters walk from a Long Island Railroad train

Commuters walk from a Long Island Railroad train after a press conference at the Port Washington LIRR station in Port Washington on Nov. 15, 2013. Credit: Steve Pfost

A dozen congressional lawmakers from Long Island and New York City in a letter to the MTA Wednesday urged the agency to back off its demand that LIRR workers either accept a three-year freeze on wages or make big concessions.

The letter comes a month before some 6,000 Long Island Rail Road union workers, who have been without a contract since June 2010, could legally walk off the job.

Reps. Steve Israel, Peter King, Tim Bishop, Carolyn McCarthy and Gregory Meeks -- the Long Island delegation -- signed the letter sent to Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Thomas Prendergast, asking the agency "to reconsider its decision to entirely reject the recommendations" of a board of mediators appointed by President Barack Obama that largely favored LIRR unions.

The letter also was signed by Reps. Grace Meng, Hakeem Jeffries, Yvette Clarke, Jerrold Nadler, Michael Grimm, Carolyn Maloney and Joseph Crowley -- all from New York City.

"The recommendations issued . . . may not have included everything that either side had hoped," the letter read, "however we believe that it could serve as a model for the types of concessions that can be made to move an agreement forward."

If both sides cannot agree on a deal, the members of Congress urged, the MTA should request a second Presidential Emergency Board to review the dispute -- putting off a strike until July.

The MTA rejected the findings of a first Presidential Emergency Board, which said the agency can afford to give workers raises of 2.83 percent over six years without having to raise fares.

In a statement Wednesday, MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said the first board's recommendations "ignored the sacrifices MTA customers and taxpayers make in financing railroad operations, the critical need for capital maintenance and the stark realities of MTA finances."

"We remain hopeful we can reach agreement on a package to provide the raises that all workers deserve by making common-sense changes to work-rule excesses that benefit relatively few employees," Lisberg said.

The MTA has said it needs workers to agree to a three-year freeze on total labor costs. Any raises would be funded through union givebacks, including the abolishment of work rules and pension reform.

"In particular, we urge the MTA to reconsider its insistence on a wage freeze or concessions to fully pay for wage increases," the federal lawmakers wrote in the letter. "Though wage adjustments should be left to the parties to decide, we believe that the MTA should find a way to address [the board's] findings without increasing the cost of commuting for millions of New York families."

Anthony Simon, general chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union/United Transportation Union -- the LIRR's largest labor organization -- called it "the most powerful congressional letter that you can possibly ask for."

Simon is scheduled to host a briefing of several state and federal lawmakers in Brooklyn Friday on the prospect of a March strike.


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