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Editorial: Contract offer to LIRR workers is better for riders

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

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials this week put an equitable offer on the table in the agency's mediation with Long Island Rail Road unions to avert a crippling strike this summer.

The proposal would raise pay by 11 percent over six years for the 5,800 workers in the national railway union who come under federal jurisdiction. Unfortunately, that's a long way from the 17 percent, six-year increase the LIRR's unions submitted this week as their final offer and the recommendation in December by a previous panel of mediators appointed by President Barack Obama.

The current three-member mediation board in New York City must choose between the two proposals and deliver a nonbinding recommendation no later than May 20.

The board should embrace the MTA's offer for a 3 percent raise in the first year, 1 percent in the second and third years and 2 percent in each of the last three years. That's a substantial but realistic pay increase for LIRR workers, who have been without a contract since 2010. And it's far and away the better deal for LIRR riders and taxpayers, who pay the bills.

It's modeled after a deal the MTA reached last week with the Transport Workers Union that, if ratified by that union's members, would raise wages about 8 percent over six years for New York City transit workers.

With a strike looming as soon as July, the two sides will meet Thursday, taking the board's suggestion that they try to work out a deal. If the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union-United Transportation Union and the LIRR's smaller unions want higher raises than the MTA has offered, they should offer up work-rule changes to cover the additional cost.

What LIRR riders need is an affordable deal that will keep the trains running.