NY: MTA Makes New Bid to Avert LIRR Strike, But Unions are Disappointed

June 21--The MTA has made a new offer to eight Long Island Rail Road unions that it says attempts to give them what they want, but in a way the agency and its riders can afford, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Thomas Prendergast said Friday.

But the LIRR unions' chief negotiator has rejected the MTA's latest proposal, saying it isn't worth even half as much as that recommended by two separate federal mediation boards.

The MTA put its latest offer on the table during a brief negotiation session on June 13. The talks ended without the union accepting the deal.

While not disclosing details of the proposal, Prendergast said it tries to "meet the parameters" of recommendations by Presidential Emergency boards that called for a six-year contract for LIRR workers with raises totaling 17 percent, with no changes to work rules or pensions. The unions have said they'd accept those terms.

Prendergast said the new proposal aims to balance the unions' "expectations" and the MTA's long-term financial sustainability.

"We think there are ways we can give the unions what they need," he said. "We think we need to stay at the table until we get there."

The latest offer is a departure from the MTA's last contract proposal modeled after a deal recently accepted by subway and bus workers.

The previous MTA proposal rejected by the unions called for raises totaling 11 percent over six years, but also included union givebacks involving pension changes and extended wage progression schedules. Before that, the MTA sought a three-year wage freeze.

"We've moved considerably from our initial position . . . And they haven't moved at all," Prendergast said.

Lead union negotiator Anthony Simon disputed that the MTA's latest offer is a major improvement and said it only provides 44 percent of the value of the federal boards' recommended contract.

Simon said the unions remain willing to return to the bargaining table.

"We will sit down and hear what they have to say, but they have to make some changes," he said. "They don't like what we have to offer, and we don't like what they have to offer."

The LIRR unions will aim to ramp up the pressure on the MTA Saturday at a Massapequa labor rally. Simon said he expects thousands of railroad laborers from throughout the tri-state area to attend, as well as international union presidents, and a bipartisan group of local, state and federal lawmakers.

The rally comes four weeks before more than 5,000 LIRR union workers could legally walk off the job on July 20 without a new pact in place. To buy more time for negotiations, 10 federal lawmakers on Thursday urged the MTA to accept a union offer to postpone the strike deadline until after Labor Day. The MTA balked, saying its priority was to continue negotiating and that a September strike would hurt Long Island more than a July one.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), who says he will speak in support of the unions at the rally, said he can't understand the MTA's logic.

"It seems to suggest that families take the whole summer off, which we know is not true," said Bishop, who added that a strike, combined with a "weak" contingency plan that urges commuters to stay home, could significantly hurt the East End economy.

"Their contingency plan basically says, 'Good luck. You're on your own.' And that is simply unacceptable."

In a letter encouraging LIRR union members to attend the rally, Christopher Natale, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen Local 56, urged workers to "come down and express your outrage."

"We stand on the shoulders of the men who fought before us and must continue this fight to preserve the Labor Movement and the middle class for future generations," Natale wrote. "It is our burden, it is our responsibility."

Copyright 2014 - Newsday

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