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Latest News - July 2014

July 18, 2014
MTA chairman, LIRR union leader sign contract to avert strike; workers get 17% raises
Source: Daily News
By: Pete Donuhue

In the end, a spirit of compromise and late-in-the-game involvement by Gov. Cuomo averted a summer strike on the Long Island Rail Road that would have been devastating for 300,000 daily commuters.

Negotiations that were kick-started at Cuomo’s direction on Wednesday and went well into the night before resuming Thursday morning finally yielded an agreement in the early afternoon — ending a labor dispute that had been building since 2010.

The deal, signed by the principals, gives some 5,400 workers 17% raises over six-and-a-half years, retroactive to 2010, and does not create budgetary pressures that could have spurred fare hikes down the line. Each worker will get about $22,000 in back pay, an official source estimated.

For riders and taxpayers, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority achieved long-term savings by requiring current and future workers to make their first-ever contributions toward health care, at 2% of base salary per year, union sources said.

Union officials also made concessions that will affect future workers, in what had been a sticking point of negotiations: They will pay toward their pensions for a longer period than current workers — 15 years, as opposed to 10 — and must work longer before they are eligible for top salary at their positions — seven years, versus five, according to union sources.



In the end, a spirit of compromise and late-in-the-game involvement by Gov. Cuomo averted a summer strike on the Long Island Rail Road that would have been devastating for 300,000 daily commuters.

Negotiations that were kick-started at Cuomo’s direction on Wednesday and went well into the night before resuming Thursday morning finally yielded an agreement in the early afternoon — ending a labor dispute that had been building since 2010.

The deal, signed by the principals, gives some 5,400 workers 17% raises over six-and-a-half years, retroactive to 2010, and does not create budgetary pressures that could have spurred fare hikes down the line. Each worker will get about $22,000 in back pay, an official source estimated.

For riders and taxpayers, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority achieved long-term savings by requiring current and future workers to make their first-ever contributions toward health care, at 2% of base salary per year, union sources said.

Union officials also made concessions that will affect future workers, in what had been a sticking point of negotiations: They will pay toward their pensions for a longer period than current workers — 15 years, as opposed to 10 — and must work longer before they are eligible for top salary at their positions — seven years, versus five, according to union sources.

The total cost of the contract was not immediately disclosed.

The MTA’s previous offer was for 17% raises over seven years, and it asked the unions for more in givebacks from future workers — 4% for health care, and pension contributions for the entirety of employment.

 

A coalition of eight LIRR unions, whose members have not had a contract in four years, had pressed for terms that had been recommended by two different White House-selected mediation panels — a 17% rise over six years, with 2% for health care, but no changes to the pension arrangement.

Anthony Simon, a coalition spokesman and negotiator, thanked Cuomo, calling him “a no-nonsense leader who knew what it took to get this deal done.”


“It was a long road; it was a tough road. But . . . we were able to come to an agreement that is definitely, definitely a ratifiable, fair agreement,” he added.

At times over the last few weeks, such an agreement did not seem possible. On Monday, for instance, MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast walked out of talks after just 45 minutes, leading Simon to say a strike was 100% certain come Sunday.


Cuomo, who has played the hero in labor negotiations before, most recently for subway and bus workers earlier this year, lauded Simon for being reasonable once talks resumed. “He is aggressive — I respect that; but at the end of the day he was not reckless, and he was not irresponsible,” the governor said.

Simon said membership — conductors, track workers, mechanics, electricians and others, who make an annual salary of about $65,000 and get $20,000 more in overtime — would approve the agreement by mid-August. The MTA board will vote on it in September.


Expressions of praise for Cuomo from elected officials were almost as common as ones of relief from riders, who were bracing for a strike at the end of a federally mandated cooling-off period — 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

“This is good news for hundreds of thousands of riders who will continue to have the transit service they rely on,” Mayor de Blasio said after thanking Cuomo and negotiators on both sides. “It’s also an agreement that respects the workforce that does very difficult and dangerous work.”

 

The LIRR, which has had five strikes in the previous 35 years, the most recent spanning three days in June 1994, is an economic engine for the region and a life-blood for Long Island. The railroad also maintains 24 stations in Queens and Brooklyn, from which 37,000 riders board morning Manhattan-bound trains each day. A strike would have cost the region $50 million per day in lost economic activity, according to a report from state Controller Thomas DiNapoli.

The deal was deliverance from the possibility of painfully long commutes for riders, who were staring at few alternative options beyond traffic-snarled highways and sardine-can-like conditions on subways.

Michael Belohlavek, 68, who commutes between Glen Cove, L.I., and Manhattan, said he didn’t know what he was going to do. “I’m really glad they averted the strike,” he said. “I wish they had done it sooner, but that’s just the way these negotiations go — it’s a question of brinksmanship.”

Brian Kravs, 63, who commutes from East Rockaway, L.I., into the city on workdays, said he had planned to take a ferry from the Rockaways. “I can’t deny anybody making money. They all need raises,” he said. “But if they’re getting raises by inconveniencing me and other commuters, that kind of rubs me the wrong way.”

Jonathan Rosen, 38, a Manhattanite who uses the LIRR to visit Long Island beaches and his mother in Long Beach, said simply: “The summer is saved.”

 

 


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