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MTA seeks second Obama emergency board in LIRR contract impasse

The MTA has asked President Obama to appoint

The MTA has asked President Obama to appoint another Presidential Emergency Board to help settle an impasse between the agency and labor unions. Credit: Chris Ware

The MTA Wednesday asked President Barack Obama to appoint another Presidential Emergency Board, the second such intervention in the four-year contract impasse between the agency and labor unions representing 5,800 Long Island Rail Road workers.

As outlined in the federal Railway Labor Act, the three-member board of mediators to be appointed by Obama will review the disagreement and deliver a nonbinding recommendation. If both sides can't reach a deal, LIRR workers can legally strike in July.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority rejected the recommendations of a first board, empaneled in November, which called for raises totaling 17 percent over six years, and new health care contributions by employees.

In a statement Wednesday, the MTA said the first board "ignored the enormous burden" the raises, without major concessions, would place on the agency's budget.

The MTA has said paying for the raises could require fare hikes as high as 12 percent or cutting $6 billion from its next capital plan.

"The MTA hopes the second Presidential Emergency Board will take everyone else's sacrifices into account as it begins this process," the statement said.

Anthony Simon, who heads a coalition representing most LIRR union workers, said he was "not optimistic" about any effort to reach a fair deal with the MTA.

"Since the last [Presidential Emergency Board] . . . the MTA continues to find money to spend on what they want to spend it on," said Simon, who referenced what he has said is a generous new contract with the MTA's police union and a new toll rebate program for some drivers. "All of labor is fed up with the MTA's games."

The MTA has said raises for all its unions, without concessions, would cost $750 million the first year, and an additional $400 million every subsequent year.

Both sides met last week in Washington, D.C., in a last-ditch effort to resolve the contract dispute without further White House intervention. But what was supposed to be a two-day bargaining session ended in less than four hours without a deal.

In a statement, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), who was among a dozen federal lawmakers urging the MTA to request a second board, said he hopes the next panel of federal mediators will take into account what the first board "made clear and explicit, which is that the MTA can raise wages without raising fares."

"No one wants a strike and every effort should be exhausted to prevent one," Israel said.

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