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LIRR union: MTA 'spit in face' of contract process

Long Island Rail Road union leaders Friday accused MTA managers of having "spit in the face" of the federally regulated process to resolve their ongoing contract dispute and credited congressional lawmakers with stopping the agency from "provoking" an LIRR strike next month.

One day after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced that it would avert a March strike by asking the White House, if necessary, to appoint a second Presidential Emergency Board to recommend a settlement, members of several railroad, transit and state worker unions accused the MTA of playing fast and loose with workers' livelihoods -- and the commutes of 300,000 daily LIRR riders.

"This is unprecedented and reckless behavior," said LIRR union spokesman Joel Parker, who blasted the MTA's rejecting the recommendations of a first presidential board of mediators, which proposed raises for workers of 2.83 percent over six years, but did not call for any of the work-rule concessions that the MTA has demanded.

The MTA has said the board's recommendations would force the agency to either steeply raise fares, borrow billions, neglect pension and health care liabilities for retirees, or slash capital spending.

"If something is so clearly favoring the proposals of one side against the other, I think no one would expect that we would accept it," MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said Friday.

But union officials noted that the MTA has supported the findings of a Presidential Emergency Board when they have ruled in its favor, including in a 2008 contract dispute with Metro-North Railroad unions. In that case, the unions agreed to a contract based on that board's recommendations. Parker said it was the first time he had seen a rail carrier "spit in the face" of a board's recommendations.

"You can't have it both ways," said John Samuelson, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 100, representing bus and subway workers.

Union officials noted that they didn't get everything they wanted in the board's recommendations, which would require LIRR workers, for the first time, to contribute to health care costs.

"We feel we deserve better, but we respect the board's findings," said Anthony Simon, general chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union, the LIRR's largest labor organization. "We do not want to go on strike."

The unions held a "legislative briefing" in Brooklyn aimed at explaining the nearly four-year-long contract impasse to state and federal lawmakers.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said he heard the unions make "cogent points" at the meeting.

"There is no real reason why they can't have a fair, negotiated settlement," Flanagan said.

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