Home LIRR Strike averted as LIRR, unions come to terms

Strike averted as LIRR, unions come to terms

by Benjamin Kabak

Shortly after Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a show of riding in on a white horse to rescue the Long Island Rail Road riders when no one else would, the MTA and its Long Island unions have brokered a deal ensuring labor peace. Word of the deal first leaked late Thursday morning through a statement issued by IBEW Local 589, the LIRR’s electricians union, and Cuomo brought together MTA Chair and CEO Tom Prendergast and United Transportation Union President Anthony Simon to announce the deal this afternoon.

During the press conference, details were sparse, and not until reporters asked did Cuomo unveil that the LIRR workers will get a deal markedly similar to that in the two Presidential Emergency Board decisions but with some key differences. “This is a compromise by both parties,” Cuomo stated. “Neither side gets everything they wanted to get.”

The degree to which Cuomo’s statement is an accurate reflection of the outcome can be debated for a while. The LIRR union workers will earn raises totaling 17 percent over 6.5 years after the MTA initially proposed no wage increases. As Cuomo and Prendergast repeatedly noted that these wage increases will have no affect on the MTA’s fare structure or capital plans, the money will come from the benefits pool (as well as from future hires who, by definition, are never represented in labor discussions). For the first time in LIRR history, employees will contribute to their health insurance costs while new employees will have, according to a subsequent release, “different wage progressions and pension plan contributions.” The unions will vote on this plan over the next month while the MTA Board members will receive a full assessment of its economic impact prior to their September meetings.

“The agreement we reached today with the assistance of Governor Cuomo is just what he advocated – a fair and reasonable contract that will enable the nation’s busiest commuter railroad to continue to serve the people of Long Island,” Prendergast said. “Both sides have compromised to reach an agreement that gives our employees the raises they deserve while also providing for the MTA’s long-term financial stability.”

Throughout the short press conference, Simon continued to note that “this was about the riders,” and he pressed that angle to a degree that seemed nearly insincere. Had this been about the riders, the MTA would have pushed for work rule reform, and the unions would have accepted it. Instead, under pressure from Cuomo, the MTA squandered again a chance to enact real labor reforms that would improve efficiency and cut down on unnecessary spending. Although 300,000 riders won’t have to experience the pain of a strike, this wasn’t really about the riders at all.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away from the press conference touting this deal, the MTA Reinvention Commission soldiered onward. It was hard not to think that the MTA had let a prime opportunity for reinvention slip through its fingers. Such are the costs of labor peace.

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29 comments

Patrick O'Hara July 17, 2014 - 1:22 pm

Anyone else got that sinking feeling in their stomach?

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Jerry C July 17, 2014 - 1:32 pm

After all this time, Cuomo jumps in and the entire thing is resolved in hours? It’s not a question of IF taxpayers/riders are taking it on the chin, but how badly…

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sonicboy678 July 17, 2014 - 4:20 pm

I’m not even a LIRR patron and I do. You know, as soon as I noticed the strike alert was removed, I had a bad feeling. Watch the fiscal hemorrhaging continue, albeit with a bit less money coming out.

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Nathanael July 19, 2014 - 4:29 am

More subsidies from the City taxpayers to the LIRR featherbedders. Who are still running their disability scam.

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Eric F July 17, 2014 - 1:25 pm

“but I fear those of us hoping for true labor reform…”

That hope wouldn’t really have been based on anything concrete. Work rule reform is just not in the offing. When you look at the fiscal realities that regional governments and agencies are working under, one is left with the realization that government employee unions have never been more powerful.

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Bolwerk July 17, 2014 - 1:33 pm

It’s almost the same thing that happened with the TWU.

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Tower18 July 17, 2014 - 2:16 pm

This was clearly the plan all along. MTA and Unions both are used as bad guys, both making unreasonable demands, until Cuomo steps in and saves the day. Cuomo gets good press, unions will get almost all of what they’re asking for, and MTA gets nothing, but that’s okay, because the public will get behind that decision.

Same as when fares or tolls are raised…they’ll float a doubling of fares/tolls, only to have Cuomo/Christie step in at the last minute to cut that in half…but half was the plan all along.

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Eric F July 17, 2014 - 3:07 pm

What were the MTA’s unreasonable demands? I should only hope that one day I’d be blessed with an employer as “unreasonable” as the MTA.

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Tower18 July 18, 2014 - 11:55 am

I should have used “air quotes” around unreasonable. They were “unreasonable” to each side, and unreasonable to the public to walk away from the table over the difference between 2.4% and 2.8% raises, when the grand compromise reached was 2.6% raises. They needed Cuomo to figure that out?

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Larry Littlefield July 18, 2014 - 7:08 am

However, the TWU workers are paid less, are more productive, are less greedy, and act less like a mafia than LIRR workers.

I wonder how they feel to see the disability-fraudster white guys get double the raise?

Meanwhile, it would be interesting to see what would happen if DeBlasio would get together with Astorino and insist that the LIRR cover as high a percentage of costs with the fare as the subway and MetroNorth, rather than having city riders hosed to pay for this.

But none of these politicians stick up for the serfs.

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Rob July 17, 2014 - 2:31 pm

those of us hoping for true labor reform for the nation’s oldest continually running commuter railroad will be sorely disappointed. [again]

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sonicboy678 July 17, 2014 - 4:22 pm

Can we finally kick out the UTU?

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Fool July 17, 2014 - 4:42 pm

Final hope is the “Reinvention Committee” will recommend the LIRR be closed and assets assumed by Metro North.

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Spendmor Wastemor July 17, 2014 - 6:14 pm

“LIRR to be closed and assets assumed by Hyundai”

— Fixed.

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sonicboy678 July 17, 2014 - 9:33 pm

“LIRR to be boycotted until work rule reforms come”

— Fixed for real.

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Roxie July 18, 2014 - 12:04 pm

“LIRR to be closed, trackage within city limits to be subsumed into NYCT Subway, the rest handed over to Veolia or some other equally awful entity”

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sonicboy678 July 19, 2014 - 12:13 pm

That would make absolutely no sense whatsoever. The tracks currently used for passenger service are in extremely close proximity to the subway most of the time east of Jamaica and Flushing and the demand for LIRR service in Nassau and Suffolk is simply too great for pulling some BS stunt like cutting off the rest of Long Island from a direct rail connection to Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.

Bolwerk July 19, 2014 - 7:21 pm

Subsuming it into the subway and abandoning the rest is dumb, but the current situation is just about as dumb with all that extra capacity doing nothing for the city.

At least Queens Blvd could use the extra capacity, close proximity or not.

Michael July 17, 2014 - 6:01 pm

I would really like the folks that were pressing for “Work Rule Changes”, or who believed that a strike by the LIRR unions would bring about “Work Rule Reform” would do the following:

State clearly and in detail exactly what work rule changes that you would have liked to see enacted, modified, deleted, done-away-with, changed, etc. And how such a change would benefit either the MTA, benefit the riders, benefit the workers, fiscal impacts, etc. (Don’t reduce the discussion down to a simple, I want work rule changes! Explain exactly what you mean!)

Much too often in the news or online discussions, there are quick references to “work rule changes” without any details of just exactly what rules or practices that is suggested to be changed, modified, deleted, etc. Some have claimed that a strike that brings about “work rule reform” that disables the ability of thousands to travel to/from Long Island is worth fighting for, to get these changes.

Please note that I do not have any “skin in this game” for any side, nor any agenda – except for wanting to know more. I simply want to be clear, and to have it explained exactly what work rule changes or practices the critics wanted. Is there some agreed upon list of wanted changes/deletions/modifications? Or different folks want different things under the rubric of “work rule changes”? Here’s the chance to explain exactly what is meant by “work rule changes” or “work rule reform”.

Mike

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pqr July 17, 2014 - 8:05 pm

The LIRR has ~900 conductors I believe. While they may have some duties other than collecting tickets, you would not nearly as many employees in a POP system. You could even keep some on working in station houses at busier stops that have been closed in recent years. There would be some extra costs in buying more TVMs, but on the whole you could cut costs, and if you keep some of them on in a customer service role you would provide a better experience to the riders at the same time.

LIRR service is very peaky. While there is growing demand off peak, there are still employees who are needed for less than 8 hours. Split shifts for some positions would allow fewer paid hours to produce the same service. Minimum shift length for special trains is 8 hours. If you want to run five extra trains after a sports game to get people home, you have to pay each crew for 8 hours minimum. There’s no reason that they can’t be brought in for fewer than 8 hours. Maybe not every shift, but at least for a portion of work hours.

Richmond Hill has mandatory staffing requirements. At times this means paying employees overtime to come to work and do nothing, because there is nothing for them to do. Aside from inflating costs what purpose does this serve?

Overtime is offered on a seniority based system. This results in some employees more than doubling their base salary shortly before retirement, inflating their pensions. The LIRR wants to equalize overtime assignments among employees to avoid this problem. An alternative would be to base pension payments on a career’s salary, not those years immediately preceding retirement.

Penalty payments are given to some employees who work on electrics and diesels on the same day. While it may have made sense at one time, there no longer seems to be a reason for it other than inflating costs.

Engineers assigned to yard work who also work on revenue trains on the same day receive penalty payments as well. What justification is there for that other than to inflate costs at the railroad?

Some overtime positions are paid double time, LIRR wants to pay them time and a half instead.

Some shifts at less desirable times receive extra pay, LIRR wants to eliminate shift differential payments as well.

I’m sure those more knowledgeable could add some more.

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Chris C July 17, 2014 - 9:44 pm

There have been previous posts about this (which I can’t readily find) but the work rule changes previously discussed include

the MTA being able to hire part time workers to add flexibility rather then everybody being on full time contracts

overtime e.g. being paid for a full shift even if worker only needed for part of one. Scheduling tasks to be worked as overtime when they could / should be done during the day

stopping extra payments to certain staff if they drive more than one type of train equipment in the same shift

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Nathanael July 19, 2014 - 4:26 am

Done already by LIRRToday, Mike. Very specific problem work rules were identified.

– Eliminate “extra pay” for running a diesel and an electric on the same day
– Eliminate “extra pay” for running a train other than the one you were specifically scheduled to run
– (There are several more of these “extra pay for doing perfectly normal work” sort of rules)
– Eliminate the ability of senior workers to hog overtime at the expense of junior workers.

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Nathanael July 19, 2014 - 4:27 am Reply
Larry Littlefield July 19, 2014 - 2:15 pm

“However, the single worst consequence of these conditions is the fact that recovering from service disruptions is made so much more difficult.”

Given that virtually all the employees AND managers were in on the disability scam, what are the odd that LIRR workers CREATE service disruptions just to cash in on the extra pay work rules then require? Even sabotaging equipment?

The way the Russian mob stages accidents, running up auto insurance rates in Brooklyn.

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Michael July 19, 2014 - 3:22 pm

Thank you for the websites, they were very helpful.

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Spendmor Wastemor July 17, 2014 - 6:06 pm

Strike against Andyboy’s future electability, averted.

Union’s strike against taxpayers and riders, most likely succeeded.

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Larry Littlefield July 18, 2014 - 7:10 am

Which taxpayers and which riders? Yet to be determined.

I don’t want to hear the MTA can’t afford Phase II of the Second Avenue Subway. Which should have been part of Phase I and finished by 2003.

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RS July 17, 2014 - 11:34 pm

Reports are that Cuomo told his post-negotiation audience that he was “too bleary-eyed” to notice when these grueling, definitely-not-contrived negotiations wrapped up on Wednesday night. Unbelievable.

Any bets on whether we see those laughable 2011 Pride Parade “Thank You Governor Cuomo” signs suddenly pop up at LIRR stations next week?

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Quirk July 18, 2014 - 9:04 am

Those people probably won’t notice, and the same goes to those “pro-choice” abortion people.

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