• Mass-transit agency and unions negotiating wages and benefits
  • Fewer than three days to strike that would cripple commute

New Jersey Transit and 11 railroad unions continue to negotiate a contract deal, three days ahead of the scheduled start of a strike that would strand tens of thousands of Manhattan-bound commuters.

Gary Dellaverson, New Jersey Transit’s negotiator, spoke to reporters in Newark, where talks resumed today after a day-long break for each side to review the latest proposals. He and union officials, representing 4,200 skilled laborers and supervisors, declined to detail the deals on the table.

“There is nothing valuable to report” to the public yet, Dellaverson said.

A strike is authorized to begin March 13 if no deal is reached. The agency’s contingency plans, which rely on extra bus service, can accommodate just 38 percent of regular weekday rail riders. New Jersey Transit urged businesses to allow its employees to work from home, and warned that the major highways would be backed up for as much as 25 miles.

An emergency board convened by President Barack Obama recommended in January that the agency adopt the unions’ offer, which called for a six-and-a-half-year contract with annual raises of 1.5 percent to 3.5 percent and a maximum 5 percent annual health-care contribution.

New Jersey Transit said the state couldn’t afford the $183 million cost of the recommendation. It had offered a seven-and-a-half-year contract that skipped raises for 2011, awarded $1,000 lump-sum payments for 2012 and had annual increases of 1 percent to 2.5 percent. It wanted employees to cover as much as 20 percent of medical costs.

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