An LIRR employee collects tickets on an eastbound Port Washington...

An LIRR employee collects tickets on an eastbound Port Washington line train, Monday. (Sept. 13, 2010) Credit: Uli Seit

Cyron Phillips went home to his 2-week-old daughter yesterday afternoon not knowing how he would be able to provide for her.

"You have to buy formula. You have to buy Pampers. You have to buy wipes. You have to live life," said Phillips, 26, as he left the West Islip yard of the Long Island Rail Road Monday, newly unemployed. "Without a job, that's going to be difficult."

Phillips was one of 36 LIRR assistant conductors to be laid off Monday in what a union leader called the darkest day in the 176-year history of the LIRR's labor force. The LIRR eliminated 98 labor positions between Friday and Monday, including engineers, assistant signalmen and electricians.

Of those, 26 will move into other vacant positions - some at lower pay - and 72 are out of work altogether, LIRR officials said.

The layoffs came on the same day that the LIRR enacted deep cuts to train service that affected more than 14,000 customers. The cuts included the elimination of overnight service to and from Brooklyn and the reduction of off-peak service on the Port Washington line from half hourly to hourly.

LIRR officials have used the service cuts to justify the layoffs, saying they don't need as many employees to operate trains anymore. LIRR spokesman Joe Calderone has called the layoffs "painful but necessary."

Anthony Simon, general chairman of the United Transportation Union, which represents LIRR's conductors, said that explanation had no merit, because LIRR management brought in dozens of conductors on overtime Monday, and left several more positions vacant because they were short-staffed without the laid-off conductors.

LIRR officials confirmed that more conductors were brought in than usual on overtime Monday, in part because of the new schedule and the U.S. Open final. But they said those numbers should go down in the coming days as seniority determines who fills what job.

Throughout the morning and afternoon, the laid-off assistant conductors carried armfuls of train equipment, including their blue conductors' caps, ticket punchers, keys and manuals, and turned them in to human resources representatives at the West Islip train yard.

The assistant conductors, most of whom had two years or fewer on the job, got a starting salary of $49,000.

"They are one paycheck away from losing everything," said Simon, who has said the layoffs are unnecessary and come as the MTA continues to hire executives at six-figure salaries. "Today they are going to the street not knowing how they'll feed their families, not knowing how they'll pay their bills, not knowing where their next job will come from and when it will come."

Among the laid-off conductors are a man who was closing on his first home Monday, another who was out of town because he is on his honeymoon, and Michael Guerra, who marked his 25th birthday Monday by losing his dream job.

"This is a very hard day for us. We put a lot of effort, a lot of work into getting this job. It took a lot of studying and a lot of discipline," said Guerra, of Stewart Manor. "And it's very disheartening for something that we worked so hard for just to go like this."

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