With less than two weeks to go before a potentially crippling Long Island Rail Road strike, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and eight LIRR unions were set to return to the bargaining table once again this week to discuss contract negotiations. The National Mediation Board, a three-member, quasi-governmental agency, scheduled a meeting between the MTA and union officials on Tuesday in Manhattan.
The MTA announced on July 2 that it welcomed the NMB’s involvement, even though two federal mediation panels working at the board’s behest have rejected the agency’s contract proposals. “We are hoping the unions will come prepared to engage in substantive negotiations on our latest fair and generous proposal,” said Anita Miller, the MTA’s director of labor relations.
The MTA and the LIRR unions reached no compromise after a 90-minute meeting on June 27. The MTA has offered LIRR employees a 17 percent raise over seven years, but union officials have insisted on 17 percent over six years. The MTA also wants new employees to contribute 4 percent of the cost of their health care coverage, and current employees to contribute 2.5 percent.
State senators Jack Martins (R-Mineola), Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) and Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) have urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to get involved in the negotiations in order to avert a potential strike, which would leave 325,000 daily commuters without service. “We need to have the full force of the executive branch brought to bear so that there is a real negotiation,” Hannon said last week.
Cuomo said he is hoping for a “fair resolution” to the impasse, but did not say whether he intends to get involved in the contract talks.
Residents speak out
With many commuters depending on trains out of the Wantagh and Seaford train stations, locals are concerned about how or even if they’ll be able to make it into the city.
“I would definitely be affected, and would likely have to stay home,” Wantagh resident Jean Rubin-Sheintul said. “I work in downtown Brooklyn and busing … or driving my car would take hours during rush hour traffic, and with the lack of parking near the courts and the expense of gas and parking lots, it would be prohibitive. I’m really hoping they don’t strike.”
A monthly ticket from Wantagh or Seaford to Penn Station costs $278, and some riders are concerned that they won’t get their money’s worth for July. “We have paid for a monthly ticket … and will have to either take time off of work, which costs us time/money,” said resident Risa Price, who works for a marketing agency in the city. “In my case, I’ll be forced to work in our other office up on the North Shore, and now will incur the gas costs that I otherwise wouldn’t have to.”
Wantagh resident Brandon Perry Frazer added that a strike would be a nightmare for commuters. “The LIRR should work through their differences and continue to provide service rather than punishing and holding the commuters hostage,” Frazer said.
Peter Ruffner, the president of the Seaford Library and a member of the Seaford Wellness Council, said he would try telecommunicating into the city in the event of a strike. “I doubt the strike will last long, if it even occurs, because this is a election year for the governor and the State Senate,” Ruffner said. “Neither Cuomo nor [Sen. Dean] Skelos want to be blamed for a strike. As statewide leaders, they would be responsible, and thus take the ire of the commuting public, because the MTA is a state creature and under their control.”
Jennifer Schilt Perfetti, who, like her husband, commutes into the city, said that if the LIRR didn’t refund the cost of monthly tickets in the event of a strike, a class action lawsuit could be a possibility. “I am so tired of the LIRR,” she said. “If they do strike, it will turn our world upside down.”