July 17 (Bloomberg) -- A strike set to begin in three days on the Long Island Rail Road, the busiest U.S. commuter rail system, was averted after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and unions reached a deal on a new contract.
The settlement ends a four-year dispute between the state transit agency and about 5,400 LIRR workers in eight unions, who have been without a contract since 2010. It keeps the commuter rail, which links Long Island to Manhattan, operating without interruption for 300,000 daily riders. The walkout had been set to start at 12:01 a.m. July 20.
“The question in the entire negotiation was where does the money come from,” Governor Andrew Cuomo, flanked by MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast and union officials, told reporters in his Manhattan office. “This is a compromise by both parties after four long years, and compromise by definition means neither side gets everything they wanted to get.”
Under terms of the deal, current LIRR employees will receive a 17 percent wage increase over six-and-a-half years. The union had been seeking six years, and the MTA seven. To pay for the additional salary expenses, all employees will for the first time contribute to their health insurance, the governor said. New employees will have a different wage progression and retirement contributions. The agreement doesn’t include fare increases, Cuomo said.
The contract is set to be ratified by the unions by Aug. 15, Anthony Simon, the leader of the largest group of LIRR workers, said during the news conference.
The accord is “a compromise by all parties to make sure that we continue down the road with a safe and reliable system,” Simon said. “We were able to come to an agreement that is definitely, definitely, a ratifiable, fair agreement.”
It is also a relief for commuters and elected officials. Cuomo, a 56-year-old Democrat who is running for re-election in November, had urged the MTA and labor groups to meet today to resume negotiations at his office. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has faced criticism for not altering his plans to leave two days before the July 20 strike deadline for a family vacation in Italy.
A strike would have cost $50 million a day in lost economic activity, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said. It would have derailed vacation plans for tens of thousands of New Yorkers who visit the Hamptons and other localities along the island’s shoreline, DiNapoli said.
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