If LIRR Workers Strike, Don't Look to Congress to Settle It

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Get back to the table and stay there until you get a deal.

That was the message Wednesday from New York's Congressional delegation, which met with MTA chief Tom Prendergast in Washington, D.C.

Members said it would be extremely difficult to get a majority of the already-divided House to intervene should a strike occur. Besides, said Rep. Peter King, "do we really want people from Alabama and Arkansas and Tennessee drawing up a labor management agreement for New York State?"

Representatives said they have gotten agreement from both sides to sit down on Thursday and continue negotiations.

"We will be demanding that unions present a counteroffer tomorrow," said Rep. Steve Israel. "We are demanding that the MTA be at that meeting and receive the counteroffer. We are demanding that both the MTA and the unions negotiate and get this solved quickly, 24/7. If they have to bring in the cots, bring in the cots. Get this solved and protect the commuter."

Both the MTA and the unions confirmed they agreed to attend a meeting Thursday, although a time and a location was not immediately disclosed.

The four-year-long LIRR contract dispute has been following the framework of the Railway Labor Act. So far, however, the MTA has rejected the recommendation of two federally-appointed mediators, who have advised the MTA to accept the unions' offer.

While both sides are close, the sticking point is how the proposed MTA contract would treat new employees, who would have to work longer to make top salary, as well as pay more into pension and health care costs than current workers.

"I pay more than my parents pay for health care," said the MTA's Prendergast. "There's very few people today who don't pay for health care."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — who Monday told reporters that only Congress could act in the event of a strike — released a statement Wednesday afternoon praising Congress for stating it wouldn't act.

“I want to thank the New York State Congressional Delegation for making it abundantly clear today that Congress will not act to bring about a labor settlement at the Long Island Rail Road," read his statement. "The unions’ false belief that Congress would step in to mandate a settlement was a major impediment to any real progress. With this obstacle removed, it is now clear that the only path to resolution is at the bargaining table between the MTA and the unions, and they should proceed in good faith. The LIRR plays a unique role and is vital to Long Island’s economic and social activity. This dispute must be handled amicably. A strike is just not an option and would be a terrible failure by both the unions and the MTA."