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LIRR unions ramp up strike threat after police pact OKd

LIRR union leaders Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, ratcheted

LIRR union leaders Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, ratcheted up their threats of a strike that could come in seven weeks. These Long Island Rail Road commuters head for their trains Wednesday evening in Penn Station after contending with delays caused by a tunnel fire. Credit: John Roca

Long Island Rail Road union leaders Wednesday ratcheted up their threats of a strike that could come in seven weeks after the MTA approved a new contract for its police force the labor chiefs said amounted to a slap in the face of LIRR workers.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board at a Manhattan meeting approved the pact with the MTA Police Benevolent Association that would give its workers annual raises totaling more than 17 percent over seven years, and other perks.

The MTA remains at an impasse with eight LIRR unions representing about 5,600 of its 6,000 laborers, even after a board of mediators appointed by President Barack Obama last month called on the authority to grant LIRR workers annual raises averaging 2.83 percent over six years and give up its fight for other union concessions.

Unless the MTA requests a second Presidential Emergency Board of mediators, the unions say they will strike March 21 -- potentially stranding some 300,000 daily LIRR riders.

While congratulating the police union on a "well-deserved" contract, Anthony Simon, general chairman of the United Transportation Union, the LIRR's largest labor organization, called it "absolutely unfair" that MTA management would sign off on a lucrative deal for police while claiming it can't afford raises for rail workers.

"It's a slap in our face," said Simon, adding the police deal destroyed LIRR worker morale. "There was no threat of a strike from the PBA, yet you sign a contract with them right in front of us?"

MTA officials maintain that the police deal achieves the same three-year freeze in labor costs that they have sought from all its unions, including those at the LIRR.

The "three net-zeros" from the police comes in the form of various concessions, including extending the time officers have to work before achieving top pay from five years to seven, employee health contributions for newly hired officers and new overtime controls.

Simon disputed that the police deal includes anything close to givebacks the MTA is demanding from LIRR unions, including pension reforms and abolishment of work rules.

MTA PBA president Michael O'Meara stopped short of agreeing that the new police deal amounted to "three net zeros," but said it has significant efficiencies for the MTA.

"I think it's a well-deserved raise for the members of the PBA, and I think it's a fair contract for the MTA," he said, adding the PBA supports LIRR unions.

MTA chairman and chief executive Thomas Prendergast said the authority is "thinking through" its next move, including whether to ask the White House to appoint a second Presidential Emergency Board of mediators. Under the federal Railway Labor Act, that request would force unions to put off a strike until July.

"We have time in the process," said Prendergast, who confirmed the MTA is putting together contingency plans in case a deal is not reached and workers strike.

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