With over 300,000 daily riders daily, the Long Island Rail Road is the busiest commuter railroad in North America. But in just two weeks, 5,400 LIRR employees could strike, causing a commuter’s nightmare and wreaking havoc on Long Island.
In 1980, my great friend Mayor Ed Koch sided with commuters over striking New York City subway workers. He famously joined his constituents as they walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, telling them, “Walk over the bridge! We’re not going to let these bastards bring us to our knees!”
A coalition of LIRR unions has been without a contract since 2010. They have been in negotiations with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but to no avail. The unions scoffed at proposals that would force new employees to work longer to reach top pay, and increase their contributions to their health care benefits. Additionally, unlike current employees, new workers would have to keep contributing to their pensions after 10 years on the job. The union is also fighting to receive retroactive pay dating back to 2010, when their contract ended.
The MTA has offered a 17 percent increase over seven years, including an average of $22,000 in back pay. How many people do you know in the private sector earning raises of 17 percent? All the MTA is asking in exchange for that multi-year raise is that current workers contribute 2 percent of their salaries to their health care. New hires would pay 4 percent.
Given the rising cost of health insurance, doesn’t that seem fairly reasonable? Keep in mind that the MTA has acknowledged that any pay raises and benefits increases will require digging into funds set aside for capital improvement — much-needed railroad repairs and construction. This will put a tremendous strain on the MTA’s finances.
The unions, looking for a more lucrative package, are threatening to strike in the next few weeks. In an editorial, the New York Post asked, “Where’s Occupy Wall Street when you need it? Middle class New Yorkers are about to be squeezed by the greedy, and OWS is nowhere in sight!”