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Countdown to strike: MTA, LIRR unions haggle as commuters wait, pray

An LIRR train entering the Freeport Station on

An LIRR train entering the Freeport Station on July 9, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

This is it -- the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its LIRR unions have six days to derail a strike that could cripple Long Island.

With negotiations to resume Monday to keep the nation's largest commuter railroad from shutting down at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, riders and businesses are growing more anxious.

For 5,400 Long Island Rail Road workers, the outcome could determine if they get a 17 percent pay raise and take longer to reach top pay. For future workers, negotiations could mean paying into their pensions longer and contributing to health care plans.

For the MTA, contract terms would mean the difference between saving or paying millions in salary and benefits.

For Long Island commuters and the region's businesses, a strike could mean disruption, inconvenience and financial hardship.

After talks Thursday, MTA officials and union leaders sounded more optimistic than in months. The agency is reviewing a union counteroffer.

The MTA on Friday released a strike contingency plan it concedes won't meet workday demand or prevent highway gridlock. At least 150,000 more commuters could travel by cars and buses starting Sunday.

Commuters such as carless Yvonne Wildman, 61, could be left stranded. "I'm praying . . . and keeping my fingers crossed it would never go on a strike," she said.

Others would choose to drive. Richie Arnand, 20, who works at state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman's Manhattan office, said he'd have to join thousands of other motorists, crowding roads already straining to contain normal rush-hour traffic volume.

"It would probably be pretty difficult to be able to get back and forth to the city," he said.

Others may stay put, including Daniel Rooney, 38, of Lake Ronkonkoma, who works as director of operations for a communications company and has already discussed contingency plans with his employer.

"I have the ability to work from home," he said.

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