July 3, 2014
By Beth Borzone
Hicksville, NY – Three Long Island state senators fearing the impact a looming Long Island Railroad workers strike might have on riders, are calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo this week to intervene in the labor dispute between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and employees in order to prevent a work stoppage.
“Any strike, no matter its duration, would have a severe impact on the thousands of riders that depend on LIRR service each and every day,” said Senator Carl L. Marcellino, vice-chairman of the NYS Senate Transportation Committee. “Long Islanders would be forced to seek out alternative modes of transportation that would undoubtedly prove costly, time consuming, and troublesome. The local economy would also suffer as many would cancel their daily plans just to avoid the inconvenience. Governor Cuomo needs to help broker a deal before a strike – not after.”
State Senators Jack Martins and Kemp Hannon, joined Marcellino at the Hicksville Train Station on Wednesday, July 2, to publicly urge the governor to act before it’s too late.
The strict negotiations process that rail carriers and railroad workers’ unions must legally follow according to the Railroad Labor Act of 1926 (RLA) has nearly run its course, and both parties are in what is referred to in the RLA as a thirty day “cooling off period.” After the “cooling off period,” which ends on July 20th, each party is able to act in its own self interest, which means the union can strike and, ironically, if the union does not strike, the MTA can impose their last offer on the union whether the union likes it or not.
The negotiations process has already taken four years, during which time the LIRR workers have received no wage increases. The intervention of the National Mediation Board and two Presidential Emergency Boards [PEB] have not been able to resolve the dispute.
Last Friday, another attempt at negotiations also broke down.
The MTA proposal was released to the public before it was given to the unions, souring the talks before they even began. The MTA offered a 17 percent retroactive wage increase, but the increase would come at the expense of newer and younger employees who would have to pay more into their health care and pensions and take longer to move up the pay scale, which union leaders fear would have the long term effect of dividing the union. The MTA also added a year to the contract. The PEB board recommended the 17 percent retroactive wage increase over six years, but the MTA proposal made it a seven-year deal, which means in the seventh year the workers would get a 0 percent increase.
Both parties will meet again with the National Mediation Board on Tuesday, July 8th.
The unions feel that they have compromised enough by agreeing to the terms of the PEB 244, a position supported by the findings of PEB 245.
“The National Mediation Board is sending experts to try to prevent a strike,” said Dean DeVita, secretary-treasurer, of the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers/Service Employees International Union (NCFO). “Labor is ready to enter into agreement as to the recommendations of both PEBs. The MTA needs to understand that they have to accept the terms of the PEBs to avoid a strike.”
The three Long Island senators think it’s time for Governor Cuomo to take a leadership role and help resolve the crisis.
When asked if Governor Cuomo has the power to direct the MTA to accept the findings of PEB 245, Senator Marcellino said, “He has the power to direct the people he appoints. He should have some weight over [MTA Chairman Thomas] Prendergast.”
Senator Martins added that with the MTA and the unions unable to come to terms, and a strike looming right around the corner, commuters will be left stranded with “devastating consequences to residents, workers, and New York’s economy.”
“The Governor, as the state’s chief executive, needs to do everything he can to bring both parties together to resolve their differences at the negotiation table in good faith, not on a picket line,” the senator said. “He’s done it before, and must do it again for North America’s busiest commuter railroad, before there’s a crippling labor strike that will throw Long Island into chaos. We Long Islanders deserve nothing less.”
In April, Governor Cuomo helped resolve the 27-month contract dispute between MTA and the Transit Workers Union.