With Rail Strike Looming, It's 1994 All Over Again

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A World Cup tournament...a Cuomo up for re-election as governor...and the looming threat of a Long Island Rail Road strike. Sound familiar? That's what was also happening  20 years ago — the last time LIRR workers walked off the job.

Back then, Governor Mario Cuomo was in a dogfight for re-election with George Pataki, and he needed suburban votes from Long Island. To win some of those votes, Cuomo threw himself into the middle of negotiations between the union representing Long Island Railroad workers and the MTA. Cuomo got so involved he canceled public appearances and according to news reports from the time, he didn't even attend a ticker tape parade for the Rangers, who had won the Stanley Cup that year.

Cuomo acted as a negotiator and go-between, burning up the phone lines calling union leaders as well as MTA officials. Edward Yule Jr. was the union's lawyer back in 1994; his father was the union chief. Yule recalled being in the room during one of those calls, which he said weren't overly polite. "It wasn't like 'how was your day,'" he said. "It was more like 'you better not f***ng strike or I'm going to lose the election." (A more radio-safe anecdote: "I was handed the phone by my father when Mario Cuomo was screaming at him 'you better handle this strike!'" Yule said. "And it wasn't as nice as I just said it.")

Workers walked off the job on June 17. Being a summer Friday, it wasn't a typical work day, and it was before the real height of the summer season that's so important to businesses on eastern Long Island.

To end the strike, Cuomo convinced his MTA chief, Peter Stangl, to make a deal, but the transit head wasn't happy about it. "I made a decision that I'd pay the ransom before it got too bad out there," he told reporters.

The strike was resolved by the night of Saturday, June 18, and trains were running again on Sunday.

Despite his efforts, Mario Cuomo didn't win his bid for a fourth term. According to Newsday, he lost Nassau and Suffolk Counties by 115,018 votes — and the statewide election by 173,798 votes.

Want to see photos of previous LIRR strikes back in 1994 and 1987? Check out this Newsday story.