MTA officials and Long Island Rail Road union leaders, sounding more positive for the first time in months of tense negotiations, said contract talks would continue as the agency reviews a counteroffer the unions presented Thursday.
With nine days before 5,400 LIRR workers could stage a crippling strike, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Thomas Prendergast and union leaders resumed talks in Manhattan to head off a July 20 walkout.
Anthony Simon, the unions' head negotiator, said the presence of Prendergast at the session helped moved the discussions along.
"I think it was a good steppingstone to get the chairman in the room," Simon said. "It was a good move forward and we'll go from there."
While both sides agreed to continue negotiating, a date has not been set.
At the urging of New York's congressional members, Prendergast came to yesterday's session. He was accompanied by the agency's chief labor negotiator Anita Miller.
The congressional members also demanded that the MTA and unions meet Thursday, and that the unions make the counteroffer.
"We had a very lengthy discussion. They came and made a formal counteroffer, which we discussed," Prendergast said. "We've got more discussion to have with them."
The MTA and labor representatives would not publicly disclose details of that counteroffer.
"The counter was clarified and we made some changes," Simon said, adding the MTA would evaluate the proposal.
While Simon described the talks as "good," he did not rule out a strike that would affect 180,000 daily commuters if both sides don't reach a settlement.
"Right now we still have a 12:01 [July 20] deadline," Simon said. "Unfortunately, we're not [at an agreement] yet. We have agreed to meet. We have agreed to stay at the table and discuss."
Prendergast, who did not attend Tuesday's negotiation session, was told by congressional members Wednesday in Washington that Congress will not intervene on behalf of either side.
Union leaders said they have booked rooms at the Hilton hotel in midtown Manhattan and are willing to continue talking to the MTA until a deal is reached.
"We will stay here until this is resolved," Simon said Thursday.
The MTA and the eight unions representing LIRR workers remain deadlocked in a four-year-long contract dispute that could climax with a strike, shutting down the nation's largest commuter railroad.
The unions have called for the MTA to adhere to recommendations of two independent mediation boards appointed by the White House, which both called for a six-year contract with net raises totaling 17 percent, first-time employee health care contributions and no changes to work rules or pensions.
The MTA's latest offer, which the agency made public on June 24, would give LIRR workers 17 percent raises spread over seven years, provided the unions make major concessions on wages and benefits for future employees.
Under the MTA's proposal, any LIRR employees hired after the contract is ratified would have to work twice as many years as current employees do now to achieve top pay.
And, they would contribute 4 percent of weekly wages to health care costs -- or twice as much as previously hired workers -- and would have to permanently contribute toward their pensions. Current LIRR workers only do so their first 10 years.
Simon had said the total value of the MTA's seven-year contract offer is worth 44 percent of the total value of the six-year pact recommended by the two Presidential Emergency Boards. The percentage, he said, was calculated by the unions' economist.
Because the wage increase would be spread out over an extra year, Simon said the proposal essentially asks workers to give up a year of raises altogether.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo -- who helped broker the Transport Workers Union contract that gave 34,000 New York City subway and bus workers 11 percent raises over five years and new benefits -- this week said he is not stepping into the contract fight between the MTA and the unions.
MTA and LIRR officials hold a "good" five-hour negotiating session in Manhattan, but fail to reach a deal to avert a July 20 strike.
LIRR unions make a counteroffer to the MTA's latest contract proposal, which calls for 17 percent raises over seven years, with wage and benefit concessions for future railway employees; unions are seeking 17 percent over six years, with no changes in work rules or benefits.
MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast says the agency will evaluate the union's counteroffer, but no details are provided by the agency or the unions on the plan.
The MTA and unions agree to continue
negotiations, but no date is scheduled.
Nassau Executive Edward Mangano
today will announce free telecommuting office for county commuters in the event of a strike.