NY: MTA, Towns Begin Planning for Possible LIRR Worker Strike

July 11--The Long Island Rail Road will provide 350 shuttle buses to carry some 15,000 commuters to Queens subway stops if there is a strike at the railroad, officials said Friday.

There will be carpool staging areas in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, 3,000 parking spots at Aqueduct Racetrack and 4,000 spots at Citi Field. In addition, a special ferry service from Glen Cove to Manhattan will be added, capable of carrying up to 1,000 people one-way, the officials said.

The strike would occur Sunday, July 20, at the earliest, and MTA officials said that if it took place at 12:01 a.m. that day, the shuttle buses would be ready for the Monday commute.

The officials said the best way to keep informed of commuting options was sign up for electronic Metropolitan Transportation Authority alerts and go to the agency's website at mta.info and click on the yellow alert box in the middle of the page.

Thomas Prendergast, the MTA chairman and chief executive, and Adam Lisberg, the agency's chief spokesman, provided the details during a telephone news conference.

As the MTA continues to evaluate the unions' latest counter-offer Friday, there were no communications between the parties as of late afternoon, according to one of the negotiators for the unions.

However, Prendergast, during a conference call with reporters, said the MTA is in the process of scheduling the next face-to-face meeting with the unions.

"Informal discussions are ongoing," he said.

The Town of Islip, meanwhile, said it will offer one of the massive parking lots at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma to the MTA for use in event of a strike.

Parking Lot 10 at the town's airport, adjacent to the busy Ronkonkoma LIRR station, has 2,000 parking stalls available, with an additional 1,000 parking spots for residents, town councilman John Cochrane said Friday.

"The MTA can use our parking lot as a staging area for buses to come," he said.

A Friday news conference included Islip merchants who depend on commuter traffic, including Stan Zubkow, who runs Dad's Deli near the station and estimates a strike would cost his business $600 a day.

"Over half of our clients come from the train," Zubkow said. "Anything like [the strike] would cut us down."

The agency on Thursday began reviewing a counteroffer presented by the unions.

Anthony Simon, the unions' head negotiator, said Thursday the presence of Prendergast at the latest session helped moved the discussions along.

"I think it was a good steppingstone to get the chairman in the room," Simon said. "It was a good move forward and we'll go from there."

While both sides agreed to continue negotiating, a date has not been set.

At the urging of New York's congressional members, Prendergast attended Thursday's session. He was accompanied by the agency's chief labor negotiator Anita Miller.

Simon described the talks as "good," he did not rule out a strike that would affect 180,000 daily commuters if both sides don't reach a settlement.

Union leaders said they have booked rooms at the Hilton hotel in midtown Manhattan and are willing to continue talking to the MTA until a deal is reached.

The MTA and the eight unions representing LIRR workers remain deadlocked in a four-year-long contract dispute that could climax with a strike, shutting down the nation's largest commuter railroad.

The unions have called for the MTA to adhere to recommendations of two independent mediation boards appointed by the White House, which both called for a six-year contract with net raises totaling 17 percent, first-time employee health care contributions and no changes to work rules or pensions.

The MTA's latest offer, which the agency made public on June 24, would give LIRR workers 17 percent raises spread over seven years, provided the unions make major concessions on wages and benefits for future employees.

Under the MTA's proposal, any LIRR employees hired after the contract is ratified would have to work twice as many years as current employees do now to achieve top pay.

And, they would contribute 4 percent of weekly wages to health care costs -- or twice as much as previously hired workers -- and would have to permanently contribute toward their pensions. Current LIRR workers only do so their first 10 years.

Simon had said the total value of the MTA's seven-year contract offer is worth 44 percent of the total value of the six-year pact recommended by the two Presidential Emergency Boards. The percentage, he said, was calculated by the unions' economist.

Because the wage increase would be spread out over an extra year, Simon said the proposal essentially asks workers to give up a year of raises altogether.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo -- who helped broker the Transport Workers Union contract that gave 34,000 New York City subway and bus workers 11 percent raises over five years and new benefits -- this week said he is not stepping into the contract fight between the MTA and the unions.

With Alfonso A. Castillo

Copyright 2014 - Newsday