Home Transit Labor With new PEB request, LIRR strike pushed to July

With new PEB request, LIRR strike pushed to July

by Benjamin Kabak

In an effort to reach an agreement with the United Transportation Union Local 645 and avoid a strike for as long as possible, the Long Island Rail Road has issued a request for a second Presidential Emergency Board. The new PEB request and subsequent arbitration proceedings will delay any potential work action the UTU make consider until July 19 at the earliest.

The MTA has tacitly recognized of a favorable outcome in this fight. Currently, 59 of the agency’s 60 unions are working without a contract, and the UTU could set the stage for subsequent negotiations. If the MTA cannot achieve a net-zero labor increase, either through work rule reform, layoffs or a combination of both, the agency’s precarious financial picture will be thrown into doubt. That seems to be the X Factor New York politicians are so willing to ignore, but it was the MTA’s focus in their statement announcing the request for a second PEB.

Said the MTA:

The MTA wants to resolve these contract issues at the bargaining table, where they belong. But the recommendations of the first Presidential Emergency Board ignored the enormous burden that a 17% wage increase over six years – without a single change in work rules or other cost offset – would place on the MTA’s budget. If those terms were applied across the entire MTA workforce, they would be equivalent to raising fares 12% – or cutting $6 billion from the capital budget for keeping our system safe and reliable.

In response to this procedural move, the TWU — a very interested bystander — issued a stridently worded statement speaking out against the measure. One union official noted that “the MTA’s repeated insistence that it has no ability to pay the raises recommended by the panel is ‘a phony smokescreen rejected by four consecutive panels of arbitrators’ who have handled recent MTA labor disputes.” The TWU is the MTA’s largest union, and their top brass have vowed to support the UTU were it to engage in a strike.

Meanwhile, as this labor fight takes shape, Dana Rubinstein explored how Gov. Andrew Cuomo is using the MTA as a piggybank. Between the $40 million diversion for debt purposes and the $7 million Verrazano Bridge toll giveaway, Cuomo is not standing behind the MTA as a variety of interests jockey for money. Brooklyn now wants its own toll relief, and the union issues will loom throughout the spring and summer.

When the dust settles, the riders will wind up paying more and getting nothing in return. After all, it was Tom Roth, the UTU’s expert witness, who said at the last PEB that “he passenger has had a good run here at the MTA, and it is about time the fares went up.”

You may also like


Stephen Smith March 6, 2014 - 12:30 am

Let’s put these MTA cuts into perspective – $40 million is one-sixtieth (1/60! 1.67%!) of just the most recent cost overrun at East Side Access. The $7 million toll cut cost is less than 1/300 the latest ESA overrun. Did Gene Russianoff issue a statement about ESA? How about Bill Henderson?

Benjamin Kabak March 6, 2014 - 12:34 am

You keep making that argument without acknowledging a few mitigating factors. First, the MTA is required to balance its operating budget so while these figures aren’t significant compared with its other budget, they matter. Second, the total cost savings from the service cuts that decimated the bus system and weren’t kind to subway riders was around $100 million. So if the MTA has unplanned costs due to labor increases, the ways to pay for them aren’t through capital cuts because that’s not how the budget works. Rather, the ways to pay for them involve service cuts, fare hikes or both.

Patrick O'Hara March 6, 2014 - 1:33 am

The MTA isn’t allowed (or is strongly advised against doing so) to switch funding between their capital budget and operating budgets. Money for capital projects is paid out of the capital budget and is held separate from the money that runs trains, subways, and buses (and pays the employees who run those trains, subways, and buses).

They can’t rob Peter (capital budget) to pay Paul (operating budget), so even if they canned ESA altogether we would still be in the same mess.

Brandon March 6, 2014 - 8:28 am

We are going to have to deal with overstaffing on the trains at some point. That goes for the commuter railroads as well as the subway.

Ryan March 6, 2014 - 11:12 am

Just let the LIRR go on strike.

In fact, let’s have them just go on permanent strike, and we can bring in Metro-North staff to run those trains instead. A displacement of the LIRR by MNRR still results in a merger by another name, and that’s unequivocally a good thing. Right?

SEAN March 6, 2014 - 1:10 pm

In effect what you are describing is a merger by taking out one of the partners. In this case, the LIRR. To me there should be only one railroad under the MTA banner & not two no matter how different they may be.

Patrick O'Hara March 6, 2014 - 1:19 pm

Metro-North doesn’t have a LIRR-sized crew reserve just sitting in the wings waiting to stage a coup. There would be no way for them to handle both the LIRR and MNCR without some significant (and planned/strategic, not random) expansion in staff and management.

And like it or not, Metro-North has problems of their own too.

Ryan March 6, 2014 - 4:06 pm

Start the planning now, then. Start the strategic expansion now. The LIRR has stated their intent to strike, shield the coup-staging efforts behind the smokescreen of “we are taking measures to ensure that if all negotiations fail, residents of Long Island will not lose train service.”

I somehow doubt that this is ending any other way than through a strike, so the potenttial impact of hiring expansion on the negotiations doesn’t really matter.

And, I am acutely aware of Metro-North’s various problems because, unlike you, I actually have to live with them every single day.

But Metro-North’s problems aren’t the issue right now. The issue right now is the LIRR, the LIRR’s impending strike, and the fact that right now New York State commuter rail flies under two banners when it ought to be flying under one.

If their positions were reversed and it were Metro-North threatening a strike, I’d be calling for the LIRR to consume them utterly and leave behind one singular Commuter Railroad agency. The colors of the banner don’t matter, nor do the issues involved in either organization or any other third-party organizations. Right now, the only issue is that one of these flags comes down.

Larry Littlefield March 6, 2014 - 5:44 pm

While I don’t believe the transit workers have a good case, in how their compensation has changed relative to the private sector, Metro North workers will not cross picket lines, nor should they.

What ought to happen is that bus and van operators should be encouraged to provide replacement service to the subway while the strike is on, however long it lasts. With perhaps a lane of the LIE made to be bus only.

Patrick O'Hara March 6, 2014 - 10:02 pm

Metro-North’s unions are at an impasse too. They haven’t yet been released from mediation so their 270-day countdown clock hasn’t started yet, but we will have to go through this same exact thing in the fall/spring of next year with them too.

And just because two railroads operate in the same state and get their funding from the same places doesn’t mean they have everything in common with one another. In fact, other than the word “MTA,” there is essentially nothing in common between the two. No common equipment, no common tracks, stations, operating rules, signal systems, etc. They have the same color tickets and the same website, but operationally, there’s almost no similarities.

Ryan March 6, 2014 - 11:20 pm

And when this happy little “dispute” gets solved, they will still have almost nothing in common except for the same parent agency and the same sources of funding.

Integrating these agencies is not going to get any easier, and it’s going to be a mess no matter how and when it starts shaking out. Why not start now? We’ve been delivered a golden opportunity to, at the minimum, put our foots down and say “we’re not going to tolerate this from you any longer and you can be replaced if you don’t start playing nicely.”

In fact, it doesn’t matter that the rolling stock and the stations and the tracks and the signals are all entirely separated from each other. When LIRR walks off the job, it can’t bring any of those things with it. Operating rules can be adopted and adapted to fit Metro-North, the capacity to work with everything else can be trained.

Quite frankly, I’m far less concerned with the potential fallout of angering a company and its workers who have already basically said “we’re off the job in four months’ time.” To me, that’s basically saying “you’ve got four months to start cobbling together as much of a replacement work force as fast as you can.” Do you honestly believe that there’s a chance for this to resolve itself in any other way? Because I don’t, and I’m all about seizing opportunity whenever it presents itself no matter how marginal the gains are from having LIRR trains start reporting under the symbol MNCW, staffed by employees with different name tags, and no other substantial changes having been made.

Even just having the same workforce for two entirely disconnected systems is a step in the right direction. We can tackle uniform fleet standardization and such like at a later point in time.

Ed March 7, 2014 - 7:14 am

It will not work at all

Larry Littlefield March 7, 2014 - 9:08 am

I don’t see the point of integration either.

Where will the President of the combined agency be based? Manhattan? And how often will he or she then get out to the shops to see what the hell is going on?

Ryan March 7, 2014 - 11:43 am

The point of workforce integration is that there will be less layers of upper management to contend with, and also that there will be less ideological barriers to more substantial integration (e.g., a singular electrification standard and a unified fleet) efforts later on down the line.

It doesn’t matter where the President of the combined agency is located (probably Grand Central) because the only time the President should have to put a personal visit into the shops to see what the hell is going on is when things are going terribly, horribly, disastrously bad. Personal phone calls and/or hauling shop staff into the office of the President for a chewing out should suffice in all other instances.

To be fair, “terribly, horribly, disastrously bad” is an accurate description of what we’re dealing with every day today but our ultimate goal should be getting to the point in our lives when things aren’t consistently awful such that we need to plan for having the President making personal visits to shops, etc.

Ed March 7, 2014 - 2:42 pm

It will still not work at all

SEAN March 7, 2014 - 3:15 pm


How won’t this work?

Ryan is spot on when he talks about eliminating upper levels of management. That alone would save billions of dollars right from the start & I haven’t even gotten to the rank & file workers.

nycpat March 7, 2014 - 11:52 pm

Just off the top of my head; you’d have a hell of a time qualifying enough engineers to keep the LIRR running. Feds are’nt go to give a waiver just so you can bust the union.

Nathanael March 9, 2014 - 5:53 pm

Well, the options are “bust the crooked LIRR unions”, or “start shutting down LIRR lines”.

The fares can’t go much higher without driving away passengers, which will in the end lead to shutting down LIRR lines.

The state subsidy certainly isn’t increasing under the Cuomo administration, and with corrupt unions taking any increases in subsidy for themselves without providing any increased service, no subsequent governor will want to add to the subsidy either.

Take your pick. Bust the union now, or start shutting the outlying LIRR lines down.

There’s something to be said for both options.

Ryan March 10, 2014 - 11:02 am

I’ll be upfront with it, per Nathanael’s comment: I have a tremendous amount of goodwill towards the hard working rank and file members of the LIRR work force. They deal with a lot every day, and I respect and appreciate the good work that they do.

It’s upper management, and specifically people like Tom Roth, who take all of the goodwill and slap me right in the face with it. I’m supporting the union busting option because I want to see Tom Roth out of a job, because I want to see the disconnected bosses who don’t live with the realities of New York transit out of jobs, and I want to see everyone who is an obstacle to the kind of real world, measurable operational improvements that come from a unified railroad that we could have had within 15 years out of a job.

It’s regrettable that a lot of the front line employees who have no control over the actions of their bosses are going to get caught in the crossfire. If we could bust leadership without busting the conductors on your morning train, I’d be all for that option. But we can’t. That should be abundantly clear by this point.

It’s time to clean house. Sorry.

Nathanael March 11, 2014 - 6:56 pm

The disability fraud business really got my goat. No other railroad in the country has the rate of “disability” which the LIRR is claiming, and they’re *still* doing it. If this were real disability, the unions would be clamoring to change the work rules to eliminate all these injuries. They aren’t. So….

Bolwerk March 8, 2014 - 9:09 am

I don’t see anything wrong with integration per se, but I don’t see what it inherently solves either. Reforming both agencies well is preferable to integrating them badly.

Larry Littlefield March 6, 2014 - 11:56 am

The bottom line, the unions have gotten huge raises — in their pensions. That riders have had to pay for.

The deal to increase pensions was done in 2000. But it wasn’t paid for in 2000.

So they say it doesn’t count now, either.

Bottom line — they have gotten richer, and most others have gotten poorer. At the expense of those who have gotten poorer.

Already. The workers don’t see it in their paycheck, and are thus resentful. And no one else talks about it, because they were complicit.

SEAN March 6, 2014 - 1:14 pm

The union leaders? Or the union rank & file workers. Just want to be clear.

anon March 6, 2014 - 3:09 pm

i think the 2000 deal was 12% raise over 3 years and elimination of the 3.3% of employee pay that went to fund the pensions, so in effect almost 16% increase in take home pay for employees. Not paid for in 2000 I would assume refers to the under-funding of the pension system by the MTA/state.

Larry Littlefield March 6, 2014 - 3:34 pm

The 2000 deal was a retroactive pension increase for past inflation that increased the amount NYCERS paid out by 50 percent the next year. That had neither been worked or bargained for. Smaller increase from that time on were also part of it. That was the deal cut by Carl McCall in exchange for support running for Governor.

The cost of that deal is huge. Particularly because it wasn’t paid for. Employees cut their contribution to the pension fund after 10 years due to another part of the deal, Giuliani for Senate, and Giuliani cut the city’s (and MTA’s) contribution to the fund at the same time.

This is all about New York City Transit. I don’t know what is up with the LIRR and MetroNorth pension funds, and it doesn’t seem to be easy to find out. That probably means something bad.

But here is a post based on all the data NYCERS has reported to the U.S. Census Bureau since the 1950s.


NYCERS never got out of the hole after those Lindsay pension deals in the 1960s. They cut contributions and retroactively increased pension payouts even so.

Larry Littlefield March 6, 2014 - 3:36 pm

The union leaders want the union workers to be resentful.

Because the alternative is for the union workers to be resentful of the union leaders, for arranging a sweet deal for those cashing in and moving out at the expense of future riders, taxpayers, and even their own members (the distribution of the pain TBD).

Just be glad the strike for 20/50 did no succeed. Things would be far worse than they are.

Nathanael March 9, 2014 - 5:58 pm

Here’s one thing the MTA can do if the next PEB continues to rule in favor of the crooked LIRR unions.

Go ahead and raise the LIRR ticket prices. Print nice notes saying “Your ticket prices were raised in order to pay for the UTU union increase in average salaries from $_____ to $_____. The UTU union did not make any work rule changes.”

Require that these be posted in every station and that the conductors place a note on every seat, and fire any employee who doesn’t.

See what the public on Long Island thinks. Maybe they’ll support the union. They probably won’t.


Leave a Comment