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Labor official: MTA, LIRR unions still far apart on offer calling for 11% raises

MTA chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast exits closed-door

MTA chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast exits closed-door negotiations between Long Island Rail Road labor leaders and MTA negotiators at the New York Marriott East after making a statement in support of the LIRR's proposal on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

The MTA's latest offer in its contract dispute with Long Island Rail Road unions calls for raises totaling 11 percent over six years, according to sources, but a top labor official said Tuesday both sides remain far apart in efforts to head off a crippling strike.

The proposed agreement comes as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the LIRR's largest labor coalition approach the final day of a hearing Wednesday before a panel of mediators appointed by President Barack Obama to help settle a 4-year-long contract dispute.

"We don't accept their idea of a deal, and they don't accept our idea. . . . So we have to find a middle ground," Anthony Simon, general chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union/United Transportation Union, said Tuesday. "We're hoping we can close that gap."

The MTA's new offer is for a six-year contract with a raise of 3 percent the first year, raises of 1 percent in the second and third years, and raises of 2 percent in each of the last three years, MTA and union sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

The deal is modeled after an agreement reached last week with Transport Workers Union Local 100 that would give its more than 34,000 transit workers raises totaling 8 percent over five years, but reflects the fact that the LIRR unions have gone longer without a contract.

Simon would not discuss details of the offer but said, "We don't necessarily agree with all their numbers."

The unions have submitted as their final offer to the Obama panel the recommendations of an earlier presidential board, which called for 17 percent raises for LIRR workers over six years.

MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast, who defended the agency's proposal to the three-member Presidential Emergency Board 245 Tuesday, would not give details about the offer but confirmed that it was based on the subway and bus workers' deal, included annual raises, and extended into "the former contract period of the TWU."

"I respect the other party's position," Prendergast said after leaving the hearing, which is mandated by the federal Railway Labor Act. "We've committed to this process because it's the right process."

The union source noted that the deal accepted by TWU's John Samuelsen last week could be far less lucrative for LIRR workers, in part because they would see a steeper increase in health care costs, and new health care benefits offered to subway and bus workers would not apply to those at the LIRR.

With the threat looming for 5,800 LIRR workers to strike this summer, the presidential board encouraged both sides to take advantage of the opportunity of being in a room together to try to hammer out a deal on the spot, union officials said. By May 20, the board will deliver its nonbinding recommendation, in which it will pick what it considers the most reasonable final offer made at the PEB hearing.

If no resolution is reached, the LIRR unions have said they will go on strike as early as July.

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