De Blasio can hit the road, Gov. says
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
With the personal involvement of Governor Andrew Cuomo, chaos for LIRR commuters was averted on Thursday as the MTA and union officials reached an agreement on a deal averting a Long Island Rail Road strike.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Thomas Prendergast and United Transportation Union president Anthony Simon signed the agreement at a press conference with Governor Cuomo on Thursday at 1:30 p.m.
LIRR riders breathed a huge sigh of relief. LIRR’s more than 5,000 unionized workers have been without a contract since 2010, and the final deadline was Sunday at 12:01 a.m.
Michael Bryant, a frequent LIRR commuter, told the Brooklyn Eagle, “The MTA employees were already paid too much, but it’s definitely a huge relief that I won’t have to find alternate plans to get to work.”
Negotiators had worked around the clock Wednesday night into Thursday.
Gov. Cuomo praised the union for being “fair and reasonable” in their negotiations. “They were aggressive but not irresponsible,” he said. “They fought diligently for their employees, but they were aware of their responsibility for the Long Island Rail Road. “
He added, “If the LIRR goes down, all of Long Island suffers.”
Cuomo said the agreement followed Presidential Emergency Board recommendations issued Dec. 21. PEB had recommended a pay wage increase totaling 18.4 percent over six years, with employees contributing to health insurance premium costs.
“The question was how to pay for it,” Cuomo said. “Higher fares? Eliminate capital budget items? Finding savings to fund the PEB recommendations, that was the entire question.”
Current LIRR employees, on average, make 17.6 percent more a year than subway and bus workers, according to published reports – averaging $80,000 a year. New employees, however, may not fare as well under the new contract.
The governor said the agreement reached on Thursday amounts to a 17 percent increase in salary, offset by “healthcare savings for all employees, and wage, health and pension plan savings for new employees.”
The contract would be good for six-and-a-half years, if ratified. UTA's Simon said he hoped ratification would take place by August 15. The contract will appear before the MTA board in September.
MTA’s Prendergast said no MTA fare hikes, other than those normally indexed to inflation, would be required.
Other details must be explained first to labor groups, since the agreement still has to be ratified.
Cuomo said the pending strike had caused a “high degree of agita over the past week.” When asked by a reporter about the meaning of ajita, he replied with a Yiddish term meaning aggravation. “It’s like tsuris.”
The announcement was undoubtedly a relief to Mayor Bill de Blasio as well, who was facing criticism about his plans to depart for a 10-day vacation during a transportation crisis.
“He can take his vacation to Italy – I’m a tad jealous,” Gov. Cuomo said.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams issued a statement thanking the MTA, the governor and the unions for coming to an agreement, but had some criticism for the MTA.
“This must serve as a teaching moment for the MTA, who frankly fell short of its responsibility in preparing a contingency plan for all of its customers. New York City’s ridership should not have to suffer during a future LIRR shutdown due to the lack of foresight or resources,” he said.
He added, “Thousands of commuters that work on Long Island, including many Brooklynites, rely on the trains being on time for their livelihood and their livelihood of their families; they must not be considered collateral damage in a labor dispute or natural disaster. The MTA needs to assure all of its customers going forward that they will be accounted for in the event of a stoppage, regardless of their origin or their destination.”