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Editorial: Settle LIRR impasse; don't put off strike deadline

Multiple Long Island Rail Road trains were delayed

Multiple Long Island Rail Road trains were delayed on Tuesday, May 27, 2014 due to a car striking a bridge near the Westbury train station. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Delays are anathema for railroads and their riders. That antipathy should extend to any delay in nailing down a labor agreement between the Long Island Rail Road's unions and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Although the LIRR's 6,000 unionized workers have been without a contract for four years, and under federal rules can strike July 20 if no deal is reached, they offered last week to change the strike date to Sept. 17. That would ensure Long Island's summer tourist season won't be disrupted by a work stoppage, said Anthony Simon, general chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union/United Transportation Union. But that concern about tourists on the LIRR doesn't exactly ring true.

If Long Islanders end up suffering through a LIRR strike, better to do it during the summer vacation season rather than after Labor Day, when people are back at work or school. That also just happens to be two months closer to the November election, which means officials up for re-election who don't want to face voter anger over a strike would ratchet up pressure on the MTA to make a deal.

There's no mystery about what the two sides want. Both have presented their contract proposals to two presidential mediation panels, each of which recommended the unions' offer as the better deal. For its part, the MTA recently reached a contract with city subway and bus workers represented by the Transit Workers Union that is the MTA's preferred template for an LIRR deal. Now they must sit down and work out compromises on their differences.

Unfortunately, in contentious negotiations, neither side is inclined to make the hard concessions necessary to reach a deal until their backs are against the wall. That moment of truth will arrive when a strike is imminent.

There's nothing to be gained by postponing the day of reckoning.