NY: LIRR Unions May Follow Signalmen in Approving Pact, Labor Leaders Say

Aug. 06--Long Island Rail Road labor leaders say one union's ratification of a recently reached contract agreement with the MTA could usher in more historically high approval rates by other unions.

Members of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen Local 56 have ratified a new 6 1/2-year agreement by a rate of more than 98 percent, according to the union's general chairman Christopher Natale, who tallied the votes last week.

"It's the highest I've ever seen," Natale said. "We couldn't have done it without the support of our membership."

After a four-year contract dispute, the leaders of eight unions representing more than 5,400 LIRR workers on July 17 reached a new pact with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority -- three days before a strike deadline.

The tentative deal, brokered by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, assures workers raises of 17 percent over 6 1/2 years.

Under the agreement, all employees will pay first-time health care contributions of 2 percent of weekly wages, and new employees would pay into their pensions for 15 years instead of 10.

The Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, representing about 500 LIRR employees, is the railroad's fourth-largest union. Most of the other labor organizations, including the LIRR's biggest, the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union, will tally votes Aug. 15.

On Sept. 24, the MTA Board will vote on the contract, which is retroactive to 2010.

Arthur Maratea, national vice president of the Transportation Communication Union, which represents about 1,100 LIRR workers, said Tuesday he expects his members will ratify the agreement "by a good amount."

"The feedback has been very good, especially [considering] where we started and where we wound up," said Maratea, referencing the MTA's initial demands for a three-year wage freeze from workers.

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg on Monday declined to comment on the signalmens' ratification of the pact, instead referring to the agency's previous comments on the deal.

Last month MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast called the agreement "a fair and reasonable contract" that gives workers "the raises they deserve while providing for the MTA's long-term financial stability."

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Local 29, representing 400 train operators, is still in negotiations with the MTA for a new contract.

Natale said that his union's success in securing the contract has drawn the attention of Metro-North Railroad signalmen looking to defect from their labor organization, the Association of Commuter Rail Employees, and join the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen.

Darren Berger, general chairman of ACRE's signalmen division, disputed Natale's claim, and noted that, because of pattern bargaining, Metro-North employees can expect a similar contract to that negotiated by the LIRR unions.

"Of course, you're always going to have a few dissentients," Berger said of his members. "But I think overall they're very happy."

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