Hey, Gov, when would you like a Long Island Rail Road strike? In the spring or summer? How about the fall when voters are going to the polls?
Unless Cuomo’s MTA demonstrates more flexibility and urgency in its dealings with a coalition of LIRR unions, and gets off its high horse a little bit, railroad commuters will endure the first strike since the governor's father was in office. There may be a difference of opinion on this, but it doesn't appear to me that union leaders are bluffing. They say they are prepared and ready to go. I believe them.
This strike, meanwhile, could get ugly — fast — when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority tries to force its bus drivers, who are represented by TWU Local 100, to pick up stranded commuters.
“We’re not doing any scab work,” J.P. Patafio, a Local 100 vice president, said.
All but one of the MTA's approximately 60 unions are working without contracts, and have been for years. That includes the still-militant Local 100 and seven LIRR unions that have banded together for contract negotiations.
After more than three years of failing to negotiate a deal, transit and LIRR union officials made their case before a neutral panel of federal mediators late last year. There were hearings that focused on MTA finances, the wages of workers at other railroads, the cost of living in the New York City area and other pertinent issues.
It appeared the dispute was at the end of the line.
But when the neutral mediators recommended modest raises — concluding the MTA could afford them without raising fares even higher than planned — transit officials essentially stomped their feet like a little kid and screamed, 'No.'
The arbitrators handed up their proposal on Dec. 21. Days later, Joel Parker, a top LIRR union official, called the MTA and asked for a meeting to resume last-ditch talks. The MTA's labor relations director said she'd get back to him. Six weeks have gone by and the MTA still hasn't called back to set up a meeting, Parker said Friday.
The law allows the LRR to legally strike after an exhaustive process that culminates with federal approval to walk, which could come as early as March.
Transit officials want to freeze workers’ pay for three years unless the unions agree to pay for them through increased productivity and reduced benefits. Not 10% or 50% or 75%. Workers have to pay for 100% of any raises, transit officials insist.
Once again, we're led to believe that the workers are the biggest problem and not the big shots running the place. The MTA stuck to this line last week even after the announcement that the East Side Access project would cost more and take longer than originally planned. About $6.5 billion more and 14 years longer. This was at least the fourth time in a decade the MTA has inflated the final price and pushed back the completion date.
Flip through the roster of audits and investigations by the MTA inspector general's office and you'll find plenty of examples of lax management resulting in excessive overtime, workers sitting idle for entire shifts and contractors that did shoddy work for one MTA division getting hired by another MTA division.
Undoubtedly, there are work rules that should be changed, but the MTA can do a much better job managing with the rules already in place.
The MTA is handling negotiations like this because they know Governor Cuomo is backing them up.
Screw the unionized workers, make them pay for 100% of their "raises" (in which case, it wouldn't be a raise, would it?) - that's Cuomo's line with the unions.
It will be interesting to see what happens if the LIRR unions are granted the right to strike.
Given that the MTA just stopped negotiating, that could very well happen.
Then the LIRR unions can pick the most damaging time to strike for Andrew Cuomo - like right around Election Day - and get the news out there that the reason workers are striking is because the MTA refuses to agree to what the federal panel of mediators came down with last year and the governor is backing the MTA up with this intransigence.
It would be great if none of this came to pass and everything got resolved - but given the circumstances in this dispute, that is starting to look less and less likely.