The New York State Labor Department has given notice that 981 Long Island Bus workers could be laid off on New Year's Day. The move is a precautionary step, in case Nassau County fails in its effort to privatize a bus line that the MTA now runs. Still, the uncertainty is causing concern among the bus service's work force, and its 100,000 average weekday riders.
The MTA has been running Long Island Bus for years. But , last year, Nassau County balked when the authority asked it to pay $26 million dollars more per year for the service, which the MTA says would bring Nassau County in line with what Suffolk and Westchester counties pay for similar services.
Instead, Nassau County entered into talks with the private company Veolia Transportation to take over the line's operation. No agreement has been reached.
Katie Grilli-Robles, a spokeswoman for County Executive Edward Mangano, said there should be an agreement soon. "The administration will be forwarding a contract to the Legislature in the coming days that saves taxpayers $26 million annually, while restoring the MTAs planned route cuts and maintaining fares," Grilli-Robles told WNYC.
In the meantime, the MTA was required to notify the Labor Department to give the 60-day notice that it would be laying off all of the line's workers when the clock strikes midnight on the last day of the year.
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said, "We are following procedural requirements to facilitate the handover of LI Bus at the end of the year, consistent with the County's decision to privatize operations on Jan. 1."
Transport Workers Union spokesman Jamie Horwitz said having no operator in place to run Long Island Bus on January 1 was provoking anxiety in both workers and riders. "The second wealthiest county in the United States shouldn't be placing the elderly, the disabled, commuters, students in limbo as far as public transportation," he said.
Horwitz said the union was in talks with Veolia about retaining much of the current workforce, should the company get the contract to run the line. He added that if the company were to hire union workers at wages and benefits below their current levels, the county would be required by law to make up the difference over the next six years.
"Not true," Grilli-Robles said.