In the midst of a deadlock with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority over a contract for its workers, the Long Island Rail Road’s largest union unanimously voted last week to approve going on strike next month.
On Feb. 5, members of the Sheet Metal, Air, Railroad and Transportation Union, formerly known as the United Transportation Union, which represents nearly half of LIRR laborers, voted unanimously to support a strike. About 500 members of two local LIRR unions cast votes, union officials said, while some smaller unions had already approved similar votes.
Union laborers have been working without a contract since June 2010, and are refusing the MTA’s demands that they accept a three-year freeze in labor costs. Workers could get raises, but only if they agree to other concessions, such as changes in work rules and raising employee contributions to health care benefits.
If the unions do not agree to this “three net zeros” proposal, the MTA said, it would have to resort to raising fares by as much as 12 percent next year.
In an effort to resolve the contract dispute, President Obama appointed a Presidential Emergency Board last November to consider arguments from both labor and management. After a weeklong hearing late last year, the board largely ruled in the unions’ favor, saying that the MTA could afford to give workers annual raises of 2.83 percent over six years without raising fares.
Union laborers accepted the board’s recommendations, but the MTA rejected them — while approving a new contract with the MTA Police Benevolent Association. That pact will give the agency’s police force annual raises totaling more than 17 percent over seven years, along with other perks.
“We commend the PBA, but we should be treated fairly and be getting those raises as well,” said SMART’s general chairman, Anthony Simon. He added that the MTA’s pact with its police force is a “slap in the face” to LIRR union workers.