(New York, NY - WNYC) 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 suburban Nassau County fails in its effort to privatize a bus line that the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority now runs. But the uncertainty is causing concern among the bus service's work force, and its 100,000 weekday riders.
The NY MTA has been running Long Island Bus for years. But Nassau County balked last year when the authority asked it to pay $26 million dollars more per year for the service, which the NY MTA says would bring Nassau in line with what Suffolk and Westchester counties pay for similar services.
Instead, Nassau County entered into talks with 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 NY MTAs planned route cuts and maintaining fares," Grilli-Robles told Transportation Nation.
In the meantime, the NY MTA was required to give the Labor Department 60-day notice that it will be laying off all of the line's workers when the clock strikes midnight on the last day of the year.
NY MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said, "We are following procedural requirements to facilitate the handover of Long Island Bus at the end of the year, consistent with the county's decision to privatize operations on January 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, and 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.
But already, the union and the county are squaring off on what obligation the county has to current LI bus workers.
Horwitz said that if Veolia 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," said Grilli-Robles.