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LIRR union head: Let workers do their jobs during storms

Anthony Simon, LIRR lead negotiator, talks to the

Anthony Simon, LIRR lead negotiator, talks to the media on Thursday, July 17, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

The Long Island Rail Road’s top union leader on Wednesday fought back against criticism of the LIRR’s response to last month’s blizzard and said calls for improved customer communications could get in the way of railroad workers doing their job.

Addressing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board at a Manhattan meeting Wednesday, Anthony Simon, general chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union, condemned “Monday morning quarterbacks” who have criticized the LIRR’s handling of the Jan. 23 storm, which dumped 30 inches of snow throughout the system and required the LIRR to shut down for a day and a half.

“Finger-pointing and blame games are irresponsible and unproductive,” said Simon, whose union represents nearly half of all LIRR laborers.

In particular, Simon blasted continued calls, including from the LIRR Commuter Council, for the railroad to focus on improving its customer communications, which have been called confusing, inaccurate and untimely. Simon disputed that providing information to riders should be a top priority during an emergency, and said the pressure to do so is “becoming a distraction.”

“To demand real-time information . . . while our system is buried and trains may still be stranded is actually detrimental to the recovery,” Simon said. “Let the professionals do their jobs.”

MTA board member and LIRR Commuter Council representative Ira Greenberg, who on Monday called the LIRR’s communication woes a constant issue that is “ruining the credibility of the railroad,” declined to respond to Simon on Wednesday.

Simon also shot down a suggestion made by Long Island Contractors Association Executive Director Marc Herbst that the LIRR should look to outside contractors to supplement their workforce in major snowstorms. Simon said, even with some training, contractors could “never provide the experience of a seasoned railroad worker” and could even put riders at risk.

Herbst declined to comment Wednesday.

“There is nobody better than the current MTA work force to continue to battle through storms,” Simon said. “January 23rd, while one of our worst, was not our first, and won’t be our last.”

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