MTA Negotiations Push Possible LIRR Strike to July

Anthony Simon, General Chairman of the United Transportation Union addresses press

Anthony Simon, General Chairman of the United Transportation Union addresses press today.

A potential Long Island Rail Road workers strike has been postponed from its proposed March 21 date–but slow negotiations with MTA officials may cause the strike to resume in full force this July.

LIRR union leaders met with both elected officials and the media Friday morning to address the status of the planned protest. Workers in LIRR unions have been locked in a bargaining process with the MTA since June 2010, when union contracts with the transit authority expired. The workers, who lobbied for increased wages and benefits, have been met with resistance from the MTA, which has enacted a three-year freeze on wage increases outside work-rule changes.

Speaking at the Downtown Brooklyn Press Conference, Anthony Simon, General Chairman of the United Transportation Union, placed the blame on the MTA;

“Labor prevented this strike,” he declared. “The MTA provoked this strike.”

According to union members, the MTA has ample funds to accommodate a wage increase. Mr. Simon claimed the MTA was mismanaging its finances, choosing to spend its money on smaller departments and legal battles.

“The MTA refuses to meet us halfway, insisting on ‘net zero’ wage increases. Meanwhile, the MTA police union was granted a contract with an immediate 7.5 percent raise, and a 17-percent salary increase over seven years,” Mr. Simon said. “We deserve to be treated with the same level of dignity and respect as our uniformed counterparts.”

Mr. Simon also cited the MTA’s decision to hire an outside law firm–on top of its existing legal department–in its negotiating efforts against the LIRR unions. “The MTA has spent enough ridership money in fighting its workforce,” he said.

MTA officials refused the suggested wage increase, however, claiming that fare hikes might be necessary to accommodate the LIRR worker’s increased salaries. On Thursday, MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast called for resumed negotiations with LIRR workers in Washington D.C. next week. Should these negotiations fail to produce an agreement, Mr. Prendergast said he intends to call on a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to mediate until July 19, effectively preventing workers from striking until July 20.

Mr. Prendergast’s call for an extended period of negotiations will allow both groups a “cool-off period” before any work stoppages occur, he said.

“We want to resolve this at the negotiating table,” MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg told Politicker this afternoon when reached for comment. He said the first PEB indicated “that we should give large raises every year, year after year. Obviously we cannot endorse that.”

Mr. Lisberg stated that the MTA wants to raise its workers’ wages, but that funds would have to come from an overhaul of the authority’s “archaic and arcane” work rules. By reforming these costly policies, the MTA believes it can increase wages in a “cost-neutral way,” Mr. Lisberg said.

Whether a compromise can be reached, however, remains to be seen.

“Preventing a work stoppage in the near future is in the hands of the MTA,” Mr. Simon argued.