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MTA puts $40M annual price tag on new contract offer as angry LIRR union leaders mull skipping Friday strike talks

Long Island Rail Road union leaders, angered by

Long Island Rail Road union leaders, angered by the MTA's publicizing of its latest contract offer before formally discussing it with them, are considering not showing at a planned bargaining session Friday, June 27, 2014, the unions' lead negotiator said Wednesday. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr., File

The MTA's latest Long Island Rail Road contract offer would cost the agency about $40 million a year -- roughly the same as the union's proposed deal -- and pay the average worker more than under the union's plan, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said Wednesday.

Still, LIRR union leaders, incensed by the MTA publicly discussing its 17 percent, seven-year contract offer before privately negotiating it with the eight affected labor organizations, said they are considering not showing up for talks Friday -- three weeks before a possible July 20 strike.

"We never even got to see [the MTA's offer] until they put it out to the press," said Jim Schneider, general chairman of the Independent Railway Supervisors Association Local 1. "That's not negotiations."

But MTA officials said Wednesday they previously discussed with union leaders the latest proposal, which they say gives more than 5,000 LIRR workers everything they want -- and a little more.

The plan, further detailed by MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast at its board meeting Wednesday, gives current LIRR workers the 17 percent in raises recommended by two federal mediation boards and demanded by the unions. Although the raises would be spread over seven years, instead of the six desired by the unions, other new incentives would more than make up for that, MTA officials said.

Those include at least a newly proposed $5-per-shift allowance for every LIRR worker, and a $10-per-shift allowance for federally certified conductors. The unions only sought the conductors' allowance.

The MTA plan also calls for a reduced health care cost contribution of 2 percent -- less than the 2.25 percent sought by unions. Unlike the unions' proposal, the health contributions would not be retroactive to 2010, when their contracts lapsed.

Under the MTA's plan, the average LIRR worker making $85,000 annually would get a one-time $22,000 lump sum in retroactive wages, instead of the $18,000 they would get under the union plan. Over the first six years of the MTA's proposed seven-year deal, the average worker would make $43,114 in total additional earnings, instead of the $39,737 under the six-year union plan, the MTA said.

MTA officials said their offer, if also accepted by Metro-North Railroad unions, would annually cost the agency about $40 million, which would likely come from funds set aside for capital investments. That's about the same amount the MTA would pay under the union's plan, but officials said the agency would realize long-term savings through proposed changes for new hires, including doubling the time it takes to achieve top pay.

Even with concessions, Prendergast said, LIRR employees would be the highest-paid U.S. railroad workers. "We've moved considerably from where we started," he said. " . . . I can't force them to come to the table."

But union officials maintain that, according to their economist, the MTA's proposal is worth just 44 percent of the value of the contract recommended by federal mediators.

The LIRR's largest labor organization, the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union, is debating whether to meet with the MTA tomorrow "given the unacceptability of the MTA's latest gambit."

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