Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he wouldn’t get involved in the threatened strike by unionized LIRR workers, which may happen on Sunday. The employees are governed by the federal Railway Labor Act, not state law, so, Cuomo says, the matter would be more appropriately handled in Washington, D.C., than Albany.
Well, it won’t be handled in Congress, either, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials learned last week when they headed to Washington to confer with congressional leaders. MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast believes the unions are waiting for the feds to step in and force the MTA to accept the unions’ demands. As long as the unions believe Congress has an invisible seat at the bargaining table, Prendergast contends, the MTA’s negotiating position is unfairly weakened.
But New York’s senators and House representatives, Democrat and Republican, told Prendergast publicly — so the unions could hear — that they plan no intervention, that negotiators are on their own and ought to buckle down and work out a deal.
“There is still ample time for the parties, including the MTA, union and state, to come together and reach an agreement to avoid a strike,” said Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, “which we all know would be devastating for Long Island.”
Labor negotiations are always contentious. Each side has its constituencies and goals. In the case of the LIRR dispute, 5,400 unionized railroad employees plan to strike unless they get what they consider to be a better deal from the MTA, whose constituencies are the 300,000 or so daily commuters and the taxpayers — most of whom never ride the train — who fund the MTA’s budget.
The latest of several MTA offers is a 17 percent raise over seven years and health insurance premium contributions of 2 percent of base pay by current workers and 4 percent by new employees. Workers pay nothing toward their health insurance now. The MTA wants employees to work more years before reaching maximum pay, and to contribute to their pensions throughout their careers. Employees now make pension contributions only for the first 10 years. The unions have rejected the offer.