NY: Congressmen Urge MTA to Reconsider LIRR Raise

Feb. 19--A dozen members of Congress from Long Island and New York City are urging the MTA to back off its demands for three years of wage freezes or big concessions from Long Island Rail Road union workers who are threatening to strike as early as next month.

Reps. Steve Israel, Peter King, Tim Bishop, Carolyn McCarthy, Gregory Meeks, Grace Meng, Hakeem Jeffries, Yvette Clarke, Jerrold Nadler, Michael Grimm, Carolyn Maloney and Joseph Crowley signed a letter sent to Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Thomas Prendergast urging the agency "to reconsider its decision to entirely reject the recommendations" of a board of mediators appointed by President Barack Obama that largely favored LIRR unions.

"The recommendations issued . . . may not have included everything that either side had hoped," the letter read, "however we believe that it could serve as a model for the types of concessions that can be made to move an agreement forward."

The letter, dated Feb. 19, comes a month before some 6,000 LIRR union workers, who have been without a contract since June 2010, could legally walk off the job March 21.

If both sides could not agree to a deal, the Congress members urged the MTA to request a second Presidential Emergency Board to review the dispute -- putting off a strike until July.

An MTA spokesman said both sides remain in a "cooling off period" and that the agency still has time to decide its next move.

The MTA soundly rejected the findings of a first Presidential Emergency Board, which said the agency could afford to give workers raises of 2.83 percent over six years without having to raise fares.

The MTA has said it needs workers to agree to a three-year freeze on total labor costs. Any raises would be funded through union givebacks, including the abolishment of work rules, pension reform, and sizable employee health care contributions.

"In particular, we urge the MTA to reconsider its insistence on a wage freeze or concessions to fully pay for wage increases," the federal lawmakers wrote in the letter. "Though wage adjustments should be left to the parties to decide, we believe that the MTA should find a way to address [the board's] findings without increasing the cost of commuting for millions of New York families."

Anthony Simon, general chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union/United Transportation Union-the LIRR's largest labor organization-called it "the most powerful Congressional letter that you can possibly ask for."

"Twelve United States Congressmen, on paper, are saying [to the MTA] that you are eventually going to cause a strike," said Simon, who will host a briefing of several state and federal lawmakers in Brooklyn Friday on the prospect of a March strike.

According to state records, the United Transportation Union has made campaign donations in the current election cycle ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 to Israel, Bishop, Jeffries, Nadler, King, Clarke and Grimm.

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