President Barack Obama has appointed, for the second time since November, a three-member board of mediators to help resolve the nearly four-year-long contract dispute between the MTA and the unions representing 5,800 Long Island Rail Road workers.

Obama yesterday empaneled Presidential Emergency Board No. 245, which over the next 60 days will review the final offers from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the LIRR unions, and then select the offer that it finds "the most reasonable."

If the two sides still cannot reach resolution after the board delivers its nonbinding recommendations, the unions could legally strike in July -- potentially stranding some 300,000 daily LIRR commuters.

The board's members are chairman Joshua Javits, Elizabeth Wesman and David Vaughn -- each full-time, veteran arbitrators with decades of experience.

"I appreciate that these dedicated individuals have agreed to devote their talent and years of experience working on labor-management disputes to help reach a swift and smooth resolution of this issue," Obama said in a statement Thursday night.

A Presidential Emergency Board in December recommended raises for LIRR workers of about 17 percent over six years, but none of the changes in work rules sought by the MTA.

"In recent years our customers have seen fares rise while service was cut. Their employers have paid a new Payroll Mobility Tax to fund the MTA. The MTA has cut almost $1 billion in recurring annual expenses," the MTA said in a statement yesterday.

Anthony Simon, who heads a coalition representing most LIRR union workers, said he hopes the board's review will "provide a positive outcome so that we can prevent a strike and get back to doing what we do best -- getting the riding public to and from their destination safely."

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