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Union unsure LI Bus will run Jan. 1

A woman waits at a bus stop along

A woman waits at a bus stop along Oak Street in Garden City. (Nov. 30, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Representatives of Transportation Workers Union Local 252 remained unsure Sunday whether Long Island Bus service will be available on Jan. 1, the day Veolia Transportation is to take over from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

About 400 LI Bus workers attended a morning briefing about their union contract negotiations with Veolia, a private, Illinois-based company selected by Nassau County to operate the bus service run by the MTA since 1973.

After the meeting at an American Legion hall in Massapequa, union representatives said they still don't know whether buses will roll on New Year's Day. The union, which represents about 800 LI Bus employees, expects to continue contract negotiations with the company through the end of the year, union officials said Sunday.

"We hope that on Jan. 1, the buses will be running, our people will be running them, and they will be running them under decent rates of pay, rules and working conditions," said Richard Edelman, an attorney for TWU.

Edelman stopped short of saying the union was preparing to strike, but added that it was "a possibility if there is no agreement."

Mike Setzer, Veolia's vice president, said in a statement his company is "confident that buses will roll on January 1, with or without a new contract." He said negotiations have been productive thus far. Negotiations will resume Thursday.

"Veolia and the TWU have continued to make progress on a variety of issues in these negotiations. Both sides are anxious to come to an agreement as quickly as possible. Veolia is optimistic that the parties will agree soon on terms for a new contract," the statement read.

Issues being negotiated include health benefits, retirement plans, a possible wage freeze and the pay scale for new hires, union and Veolia officials have said. The bus service in Nassau County has 100,000 riders daily.

Patricia Bowen, the TWU Local 252 president, said the union and Veolia "are now in a race against the clock," and cited "the complexity of converting a public entity into a private operation."

Nassau's transition to Veolia was jolted earlier this month when Veolia's corporate parent said it would sell off its mass transit holdings. The county legislature unanimously approved the switch last week.

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