Obama appoints second board for LIRR dispute


President Barack Obama has appointed a second board of mediators to intervene in a longstanding contract impasse between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its Long Island Rail Road unions.

On March 21, the day initially set by union workers for a labor strike, Obama empaneled a second Presidential Emergency Board that will review final propositions made by MTA officials and union workers and report its findings for a resolution.

The board’s members include chairman Joshua Javits, Elizabeth Wesman and David Vaughn, who are all full-time, seasoned arbitrators with the National Mediation Board.

“I appreciate that these dedicated individuals have agreed to devote their talent and years of experience working on labor-management disputes to help reach a swift and smooth resolution of this issue,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House.

As stated in the Federal Railway Labor Act, the second board will present a nonbinding recommendation to both MTA officials and LIRR unions — The MTA rejected such a resolution made by the first board when it convened last November — but if both sides fail to reach a deal, LIRR workers can legally strike as early as July 19.

This announcement comes two months after MTA officials and LIRR labor chiefs ended less than a day of negotiations in Washington D.C. without reaching a settlement.

MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said in a statement Thursday that the first board “ignored the enormous burden” placed on the agency’s budget in its recommendations, which initially called for a 17 percent wage increase over six years.

In order to meet those terms, Donovan added, the MTA would have to raise fares as much as 12 percent or cut around $6 billion from its next capital budget.

“The MTA wants to resolve these contract issues at the bargaining table, where they belong,” Donovan said. “In recent years, our customers have seen fares rise while service was cut… The MTA hopes the second Presidential Emergency Board will take everyone else’s sacrifices into account as it begins this process.”

Anthony Simon, general chairman of the Steel Metal Air Rail Road and Transportation Union, said in a statement Thursday that the three mediators selected to serve on the second board, much like those who were appointed to the first, are “highly respected and intelligent” and he hopes to diffuse a potential labor stoppage with their help.

“We will present our case to this distinguished board as well,” Simon said, “with the hopes that we can come to a peaceful resolution and prevent what will be a very painful shutdown of the largest commuter rail in the Northeast.”

Simon added that until a final settlement is reached with MTA officials, LIRR union workers will continue to serve its riders “with pride and a safe system” on their daily commute.