Demo Gov Cuomo Gets Rail Union Tops To Call Off Strike At LIRR-NY Rail Union officials: LIRR unions, MTA to return to bargaining table

Demo Gov Cuomo Gets Rail Union Tops To Call Off Strike At LIRR-NY Rail Union officials: LIRR unions, MTA to return to bargaining table
NY Rail Union officials: LIRR unions, MTA to return to bargaining table
Originally published: July 16, 2014 9:31 AM
Updated: July 16, 2014 11:11 AM

Talks between the LIRR unions and the MTA will resume Wednesday, union officials said, after calls from the governor and the transportation agency to return to the bargaining table.
Lead union negotiator Anthony Simon confirmed both sides will meet Wednesday. He did not disclose the time and location.
"The unions never wanted to leave the table," Simon said, adding that he hoped the calls to return to the table from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and congressional members "sent a real message that we need to get this done."
A day after saying a strike by LIRR workers would not be a disaster, Cuomo said in a statement released Wednesday "we must do everything we can" to prevent a strike.
In the statement released by his office, the governor called for the two sides to return to the table.
"The Long Island Rail Road is a critical transportation system for Long Island and New York City," Cuomo said at "We must do everything we can to prevent Long Islanders from being held hostage by a strike that would damage the regional economy and be highly disruptive for commuters. Both the MTA and the LIRR unions need to put the interests of New Yorkers first by returning to the table today and working continuously to avoid a strike."
Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said they agreed with the governor, releasing a statement that includes a call to the unions to return to the bargaining table.
"As Governor Cuomo said, a strike would disrupt families and business across the New York metropolitan region, and the only way to prevent a strike is for both sides to negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement at the bargaining table," the statement said. "We have asked the LIRR unions to resume negotiations immediately."
Ricardo Sanchez, general chairman of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, one of the unions in negotiations with the MTA, said he is more optimistic after the calls from New York's congressional delegation and Cuomo's statement.
"The tone has changed," said Sanchez, who expects the MTA will come to the table with a new counter-offer. "They have to. Otherwise, why are we meeting today?"
He also hopes Cuomo will step into the dispute.
"Hopefully he's going to intervene and help the process along," Sanchez said. "We really don't want to go out on strike. But we will."
On Tuesday, union leaders and the head of the MTA delivered dueling messages to the public and railway workers.
MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast released an open letter to LIRR riders assuring them his agency "remains committed to settling this matter quickly."
Simon visited union offices throughout Long Island to coordinate Sunday's possible 12:01 a.m. work stoppage. The "MTA cannot settle quickly if they do not wake up," he said.
Cuomo on Tuesday, asked if he would intervene in negotiations, said: "Well, let's see how it goes."
He then downplayed the potential impact of a shutdown. "Look we've had strikes before, right? And we've survived. And we've had disasters. And we know what that's like. Hurricane Sandy was a disaster and we've gone through other disasters."
"This is not a disaster."
Among other key developments:
In contrast, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli estimated an LIRR strike could cost the state $50 million a day in economic losses.
Members of Long Island's congressional delegation urged both sides to resume contract negotiations.
Prendergast's agency met with LIRR unions Monday in an abbreviated negotiation session, but rejected the unions' counteroffer without presenting a counter of its own. In his letter Tuesday, he wrote that an agreement with the unions would have to be "affordable not just today, but also into the future" without putting pressure on the MTA to raise fares or scale back capital investments.
"A strike would have a devastating impact," Prendergast wrote. "It's time to have productive negotiations to resolve our differences and return to what we all do best together -- serving our LIRR customers."
In his letter, Prendergast included details of the MTA's current proposal.
The plan calls for 17 percent raises for current workers over seven years and asks health care contributions of 2 percent of weekly wages. To help fund the raises, the MTA wants future workers to pay twice as much in health care costs, take twice as long to achieve top pay, and contribute to pensions permanently, instead of for 10 years, as most now do.
As part of its campaign, the MTA will also begin running print and radio ads Wednesday, detailing its offer and asking, "When is enough enough?"
The unions, following the recommendations of two federal mediation boards, want the 17 percent raises over six years, and, according to the MTA, have proposed much smaller concessions for future workers that amount to 0.15 percent savings from their previous offer.
With Gary Dymski

MTA chair: ‘No reason’ to further negotiate LIRR offer

Tom Prendergast. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

By Nidhi Prakash 6:29 p.m. | Jul. 14, 2014follow this reporter
M.T.A. chairman and C.E.O. Tom Prendergast said today talks with the LIRR transit workers' unions have broken down because the unions’ latest offer was untenable.

He said the unions’ counteroffer, presented last Thursday, amounts to a 0.15 percent decrease in total cost on the deal they brought to the M.T.A. in December.

“They’re offering things that really don’t accrue savings to us,” said Prendergast.

As an LIRR transit workers’ strike approaches this Sunday, Prendergast said he would need to see more concessions from the unions for any talks to resume.

The M.T.A. has increased its offer over the past six months, currently offering the workers a seventeen percent rise in salaries over six years, with increased employee contributions to health care.

“Until they’re ready to move there’s no reason to have negotiations,” said Prendergast.

Anthony Simon, general chairman of transport workers' union SMART, said in a statement earlier today that the LIRR strike will go ahead on Sunday just after midnight.

“MTA rejected the counter-offer we presented last Thursday,” said Simon in the statement. “They presented no counter proposal.

They continue to insist that the unions agree to a contract worth less than the value of the compromise recommendations of two Presidential Emergency Boards.”

Prendergast said the current proposal from the unions is not financially responsible. He told reporters the deal included concessions to increase the time it takes for workers to vest in pensions, moving from five years to 10 years, but said this did not add up to much in terms of cost reduction.

“If we were to accept this deal on their terms, it would put additional pressure on both the fare increases that we have projected in the financial plan and pressure on funding of the capital program, both of which are exceptionally important to the M.T.A.,” he said.

Prendergast suggested national labor unions might be putting pressure on local unions to remain inflexible.

“Maybe they want to make sure that we cut a deal here that sets a pattern for the rest of the country, and if that’s what they want to do, fine," he said. "But the people who are responsible for running the system here … need to come to terms with the deal unencumbered by outside forces who have other interests."

Asked if he would request Governor Andrew Cuomo intervene directly, Prendergast told reporters that unions need to be pressured in some way to “get them to a different place”.

“We need a lot of people to step in and get us to a different place,” he said.

Prendergast said he was concerned that the strike would be taking place during hurricane season.

“The worst-case scenario we could find ourselves in is employees out on strike, may or may not come back to work, the Long Island Rail Road is one of the best evacuation means off the island for people that need to get off," he said. "You can’t put all the cars on the expressway."

Prendergast said the LIRR is making prepartions with the mayor’s Office of Emergency Management and other agencies.

In his statement, Simon said the strike could begin to affect trains by Wednesday. A spokesperson for the M.T.A. gave a different timeline, suggesting trains would only begin to be impacted starting on Saturday.