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Subway, bus union vows support for LIRR workers in possible strike

LIRR customers board a train at Penn Station

LIRR customers board a train at Penn Station on Dec. 20, 2013. Credit: Craig Ruttle

The head of the union representing 38,000 New York City subway and bus employees has vowed his members' support for LIRR workers in their ongoing contract dispute -- potentially disrupting the MTA's strike contingency plans.

John Samuelson, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 100, wrote a letter to union members last week saying that they would support an LIRR workers strike, which could come as soon as next month, "in every way possible."

"This will not only include the establishment and manning of picket lines, but every other lawful means at our disposal," Samuelson wrote. "If and when strike action occurs, we must view supporting those workers as the defense of our own livelihoods: because that is exactly what it is."

A TWU official who asked to remain anonymous said that while transit workers could not legally strike, they could refuse to work overtime, making it harder for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to execute a contingency plan. That plan would probably entail busing LIRR commuters from key stations on Long Island to Jamaica and to Citi Field, where they could transfer to subways.

Anthony Simon, chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union / United Transportation Union, the LIRR's largest labor organization, called the TWU's support for an LIRR strike "unprecedented," and said it could make commutes especially complicated for some 300,000 daily LIRR riders.

"The impact is going to be that much greater," Simon said. "There is no guarantee that [the MTA] will get the overwhelming support of the TWU . . . to come in on their days off."

Responding to the transit union's pledged support of LIRR workers, MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said only that TWU workers "are obligated to follow all lawful instructions given by management."

Eight LIRR unions representing about 5,600 of its 6,000 laborers are stuck at an impasse with the MTA, which is demanding that workers accept a three-year freeze on total labor costs.

The unions, which have been working without a contract since 2010, have said they will go on strike as early as March 21 unless they reach a new deal or the MTA asks President Barack Obama to appoint a second Presidential Emergency Board of mediators to recommend an agreement. That would put off a strike at least until July.

A first Presidential Emergency Board in December largely ruled in the unions' favor, saying the MTA could afford to give workers annual raises averaging 2.83 percent over six years.

But not all TWU workers are anxious to stick their necks out for those at the LIRR. Tom Creegan, a subway worker and TWU union officer, said some transit workers resent LIRR unions for not standing by them when they walked off the job in 2005.

"A lot of us people have not forgotten," Creegan said.

The unnamed TWU official said he was confident his members would support LIRR workers, because MTA management is seeking the same three-year freeze from all its unions.

"They recognize that whatever happens with the Long Island Rail Road, good or bad, is going to have a big impact on us moving forward," he said.

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