LIRR Strike Averted Days Before Planned Work Stoppage

A tentative deal has been reached to avoid a strike at the nation's largest commuter railroad, sparing hundreds of thousands of commuters the headache of finding alternate routes to and from the city, Gov. Cuomo announced Thursday.

The agreement, which still must be ratified by union members, settles a four-year contract dispute between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the eight unions that represent the Long Island Rail Road's 5,400 workers.

It provides the 17 percent wage increase recommended by the emergency board appointed by President Obama and includes worker health care contributions while protecting commuters and the MTA's financial stability, Cuomo said.

"The Long Island Rail Road is a critical artery in connecting the downstate region, and the men and women who keep it running play a vital role in the lives of our commuters and in the communities that the LIRR serves,” the governor said in a statement. "Resolving this contract dispute is the right thing to do, and the agreement we have reached today is fair to all parties."

Under the terms of the agreement, existing LIRR employees will receive 17 percent raises over a term of six and a half years. That works out to about a 2.5 percent raise per year. To ensure the long-term sustainability of those raises, current and new hires will pay 2 percent of their health care costs. They currently pay nothing, and the unions had sought to maintain that practice.

Pension contributions were also a sticking point of the negotiations. The agreement calls for new hires to pay 4 percent of their pension costs for the first 15 years of employment. The MTA had proposed pension co-pays for life; the union wanted to pay them for 10 years.

The contract will have no impact on MTA fares.

"This is a compromise by both parties after four long years," Cuomo said. "Compromise by definition means that neither side gets everything that they wanted to get but that we reached an agreement and can move forward." 

The unions had threatened to strike at 12:01 a.m. Sunday if they did not get a deal, meaning the LIRR's 300,000 daily riders would be forced to find other means of getting into and out of the city.

Cuomo stepped into the fray earlier this week after negotiations collapsed. He demanded the two sides reach a deal to prevent holding commuters hostage.

“The agreement we reached today with the assistance of Governor Cuomo is just what he advocated – a fair and reasonable contract that will enable the nation’s busiest commuter railroad to continue to serve the people of Long Island,” MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast said in a statement. “Both sides have compromised to reach an agreement that gives our employees the raises they deserve while also providing for the MTA’s long-term financial stability." 

United Transportation Union President Anthony Simon called the agreement "fair and equitable" for both existing and future employees.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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