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MTA, LIRR unions prepare final contract offers as strike looms

Commuters get off a Long Island Railroad train

Commuters get off a Long Island Railroad train after it pulled into the Huntington LIRR station on July 25, 2012. The MTA and rail labor organizations are meeting Monday, April 21, 2014, with final contract offers. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The MTA and the unions representing nearly 6,000 Long Island Rail Road workers will begin laying out their final offers in a four-year-long contract dispute Monday.

The White House-appointed Presidential Emergency Board No. 245 will convene in Manhattan at noon to hear from LIRR labor leaders and Metropolitan Transportation Authority negotiators. Without a resolution, LIRR unions could go on strike as early as July.

It's the second time since November that President Barack Obama has assembled a three-member board of expert mediators to try to resolve the contract impasse. A first board largely supported the unions, calling for raises totaling about 17 percent over six years, and no changes to work rules.

Rather come up with its own terms for a deal, the second board will only choose "the most reasonable" final offer in a report expected in about a month. The board's recommendation is not binding.

MTA officials and LIRR union representatives, under a gag order by the presidential board, declined to comment on Monday's meeting.

After reaching a tentative agreement with the Transport Workers Union last week for raises totaling 8 percent over five years, MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast said TWU contracts typically establish a pattern that the agency expects its other unions, including those at the LIRR, to follow.

An LIRR union source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he expects the railroad labor groups will stick to their guns in pursuing the more lucrative terms of the first presidential board. Because the subway workers' contract has not yet been ratified by the MTA board, the TWU board or union members, it will carry little weight with the federal mediators, the source said.

"The position everybody is taking is that we're unaffected by this," the LIRR union source said of the TWU deal. "We don't see that it's going to make that big of a difference."

But former TWU president Roger Toussaint said the TWU deal could only hurt the LIRR unions, because it "lowers the bar significantly" on what they could expect.

Toussaint noted that MTA and labor sources have both confirmed that the MTA made an offer to the LIRR unions in February that was within the constraints of the first presidential board's recommendations.

"This is a real betrayal," Toussaint said of the TWU's deal. "Certainly . . . would have come out better by any measure based on what was on the table."

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