Home LIRR On the precipice of a strike, or avoiding one

On the precipice of a strike, or avoiding one

by Benjamin Kabak

The funny thing about labor discussions, disputes and negotiations is that they are nearly impossible to predict. It’s hard to separate theater and posturing from actually productive conversations and negotiations, and whatever’s happening with the LIRR unions is proving this point perfectly. A day ago, I would have said a strike was a near-certainty. Today, after some politicking from Albany and revived discussions, I’m hedging my bets. With just under three days until the MTA has to start paring back service, time is definitely of the essence.

After a few days of posturing in which the MTA went hard after the union and the union seemed to dig in for a strike, Andrew Cuomo, as expected, slowly started to step in. He issued a terse statement (and apparently had a chat with his people at the MTA as well). “The Long Island Rail Road is a critical transportation system for Long Island and New York City. 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,” he said. “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.”

Later that day, the MTA and LIRR unions pledged to talk, and the LIRR labor leaders have since dialed back the rhetoric. They’re no longer vowing a strike, but significant differences remain. Matt Flegenheimer summed up Wednesday’s goings-on:

Four days before a possible strike, the Long Island Rail Road and its unions resumed talks on Wednesday and pledged to continue informal discussions throughout the night — a conspicuous shift in tone after negotiations broke down earlier in the week. The sides were expected to remain in touch by phone and video conference on Wednesday evening and return for face-to-face meetings on Thursday morning.

The gathering came hours after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called on both sides to return to the negotiating table. Transportation experts have long expected Mr. Cuomo to intervene to head off a possible strike on the railroad, which handles about 300,000 rider trips on weekdays. He oversees the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the railroad. Less than an hour after Mr. Cuomo’s statement, the transportation authority said that it had asked its unions to resume negotiations.

Anthony Simon, the leader of the railroad’s largest labor group, said the unions “never wanted to leave the table.” Earlier in the week, Mr. Simon predicted that a strike was all but certain. On Wednesday, he was much more reserved. “Let’s leave the percentages off for now,” he said when asked about his past claim that the chances of a shutdown were 100 percent. “We don’t want to alarm the public anymore.”

It’s worth noting that the MTA’s offers to date have been generous, and I don’t believe the MTA should move from their position. According to materials the agency released after talks fell apart on Monday, the MTA has promised 17 percent raises in exchange for some health care contribution concessions. It’s unclear if badly needed pension and work-rule reforms are on the table, but so far, the MTA hasn’t shown a willingness to fight for much reform in a way that would overhaul the labor problems the agency currently faces.

I’m worried about Cuomo’s interference because the MTA almost needs the strike. In the short term, it would mean headaches for subway riders and major hassles for Long Island commutes (including reverse commuters), but in the long time, the MTA has to fix systematic problems with LIRR workrules, pensions and other benefit obligations. They won’t be able to do so if Gov. Cuomo is putting pressure on to settle before voters get upset. Such are the travails of labor relations during an election year. Can we look beyond the next three months?

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sonicboy678 July 16, 2014 - 11:19 pm

By the looks of things, the MTA no longer wants to touch work rule reform just to avoid a strike. What I say is that if we can do something about the unions, we should. Considering just how stuck in the past the LIRR unions are, it would probably be better for everyone to kick those unions out and bring in other, fair unions.

Peter Laws July 19, 2014 - 7:22 pm

“Something about the unions”. Damn those guys for wanting more money. Can anyone give an example of onerous work rules that cost the railroad money? I’m not trying to claim that their aren’t but give some examples. Are there still firemen on the head end of LIRR trains? Two or three brakemen?

Peter Laws July 24, 2014 - 9:31 am

I saw the links about work rules on the other strike thread. The Diesel/electric on the same day rule seems … quaint. POP might work for fare collection, but you still need a conductor and an engineer to run the train safely. Of course with POP you need fare inspectors, so not all your labor cost disappears.

peter July 16, 2014 - 11:56 pm

The strike would be a GOOD thing. Cuomo needs to step aside and let the unions self-destruct.
The MTA should not move an inch, they have already bent further than neccessary

Kevin Walsh July 16, 2014 - 11:59 pm

How long are we supposed to put up with no service while the unions ‘self-destruct’?

Quirk July 17, 2014 - 1:14 am

Let them self-destruct.

It could beneficial to seem in the long run. . . . Anyway, some people predicted that Cuomo would be the “hero of the people” at the eleventh hour.

Quirk July 17, 2014 - 1:15 am

It could be beneficial to them in the long run. . ..*

Typos fixed!

Larry Littlefield July 17, 2014 - 9:59 am

How much more are you willing to pay on your monthly?

Or should more innovative means be found to provide the highest paid MTA workers with the biggest raises?

Bigger fare hikes, deferred maintenance and service cuts on the subway, for example.

Larry Littlefield July 17, 2014 - 7:07 am

“It’s worth noting that the MTA’s offers to date have been generous.”

To whom? Cuomo wants fairness. That would require comparing the total compensation of LIRR workers to LIRR riders, MTA service area taxpayers, MetroNorth workers, subway workers, and NJ Transit workers. And justifying the differences.

As well as justifying the lower level of fare recapture on the LIRR, and the shift of money from other MTA services to pay for it.

Fairness would also call into question getting all the “savings” from future LIRR workers, who have not yet become part of a disability fraud mafia, and none from past LIRR workers, who were.

The LIRR unions should not be threatening a strike. The rest of us should be. LIRR riders may not want one, but they don’t want to pay either. They want the rest of the MTA service area to pay.

SEAN July 17, 2014 - 10:38 am

The LIRR unions should not be threatening a strike. The rest of us should be.

LOL – I’ll believe it when I see it. 300,000 commuters coming into Manhattan in cars? LOL again

Larry Littlefield July 17, 2014 - 11:19 am

The 300,000 is two-way ridership.

The LIRR only carries one-third of commuters to NYC.

It only carries a fraction of the ridership of the subway.

If they are in a position to blackmail Long Island, then why not pay them 50 percent more? Why not double it? Why not give them automatic disability pensions with 300 percent of their pay after 10 years of work?

But then who pays.

I don’t like being blackmailed by those who have been screwing us. Not by Wall Street in the 2008 bailouts, and not by the LIRR unions. That seems to be what happens — those who already have more grab more still, using the government to take it from us. I’m sick of it.


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