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MTA chief challenges Obama panel's finding in LIRR dispute

MTA chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast exits closed-door

MTA chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast exits closed-door negotiations between Long Island Rail Road labor leaders and MTA negotiators at the New York Marriott East after making a statement in support of the LIRR's proposal on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast Wednesday disputed a White House-appointed mediation board's assertions that the agency's proposed contract for Long Island Rail Road workers is worth less than a pact recently reached with subway employees.

Prendergast said he was "disheartened" that Presidential Emergency Board 245 on Tuesday -- two months before a possible strike -- shot down the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's current LIRR contract offer. It was modeled on an agreement ratified Monday by the MTA's largest union, the Transport Workers Union Local 100, he said.

The MTA Board unanimously approved the TWU contract Wednesday.

LIRR union leaders have rejected the offer, which called for 11 percent raises over six years, saying it was worth far less to railroad workers than transit employees, in part because it calls for steeper increases in employee health care contributions for LIRR laborers and because new benefits for transit workers would not apply to those at the LIRR.

The presidential board agreed that the MTA's offer to the railroad unions "follows the form but not the substance of the deal it entered into with Local 100." The three-member panel backed LIRR laborers' plan for a six-year, 17 percent raise contract, which it called the more "reasonable" offer.

Prendergast suggested that the time constraints of the federally regulated railroad negotiating process prevented the MTA from thoroughly explaining their offer to the unions.

"We respectfully disagree with both the PEB and the Long Island Rail Road coalition," Prendergast said. "We believe that we can demonstrably prove that the offers, in terms of value to the employees, are essentially the same."

Prendergast added that the MTA will "redouble" its efforts to settle the labor dispute at the bargaining table.

Christopher Natale, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen Local 56, said the MTA already had its chance to make the best case for its offer before the board's ruling but failed to negotiate in good faith with the unions.

"Had they sincerely participated, we all would not be on this collision course," Natale said.

The second board's ruling marked the last procedural step before nearly 6,000 LIRR workers could legally strike July 20. An earlier Presidential Emergency Board in December also supported the 17 percent raise plan.

"We sincerely hope the MTA will not cling to its twice-rejected position," said Anthony Simon, who heads the largest coalition of LIRR laborers. "The ball is in their court."

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