A planned strike on the Long Island Rail Road, the nation’s busiest commuter rail line, was averted when the parties agreed on Thursday to a new contract after Gov. Andrew Cuomo personally intervened in the stalled talks.
“It is my pleasure to announce today that we have settled a four-year dispute dealing with the Long Island Rail Road labor unions,” Cuomo said at a televised news conference. “This is a compromise by both parties after four long years.”
The unions had been working without a contract since 2010 and had threatened to strike at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. The railroad stretches through Long Island into Manhattan and serves about 300,000 riders a day.
Negotiations with the eight unions threatened to break down after both sides balked over forcing future employees to contribute to their health and pension plans. Before his intervention, the negotiations between the MTA and the eight unions representing the workers threatened to break down.
Cuomo became personally involved in the contentious negotiations on Wednesday and called union leaders and officials from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the public entity that operates the railroad and other mass transit systems in the metropolitan New York region.
Specifics of the proposed contract have yet to be announced.
Both sides escalated public relations efforts this week as the likelihood of a strike intensified.
The MTA launched a series of newspaper and radio ads on Wednesday to get the public on its side, calling the LIRR workers “the best paid in the nation.” In the ads, the MTA said workers make almost $90,000 a year, get free health care and pensions, and that the MTA offered to raise salaries 17%.
“Current employees would get everything they asked for,” the ads say. “Yet the unions are still threatening to strike. When is enough enough?”
The unions, on the other hand, said that federal mediators have supported their bargaining position, and that MTA management was “wasting precious dollars on dishonest attack ads instead of finding time to negotiate.” The MTA sought permanent pension payments from the union, and wanted future workers to pay twice as much for their health care.
Muskal reported from Los Angeles, Semuels from Boston