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New York transit workers poised to strike

The Long Island Railroad, which carries roughly 334,000 commuters every weekday, could shut down on Monday over labor negotiations.
A Long Island Rail Road train conductor collects tickets aboard a train bound for Port Washington leaving Pennsylvania station in New York
A Long Island Rail Road train conductor collects tickets aboard a train bound for Port Washington leaving Pennsylvania station in New York on July 14, 2014.

Workers on a major New York rail line are getting ready to strike for the first time in two decades.

The general chairman for the union representing Long Island Railroad (LIRR) workers on Monday revealed that negotiations between his organization and New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) had broken down, setting the stage for a transit shutdown. Barring unforeseen circumstances, LIRR workers will go on strike shortly after midnight Sunday.

LIRR trains move about 334,000 commuters every week day [PDF]. The MTA has developed a contingency plan for those potentially inconvenienced by the strike, expanding shuttle bus service to affected regions. Yet the work stoppage could still have a dramatic impact, particularly given the MTA's recent financial troubles and the importance of public transit to New York City.

An open letter from union leader Anthony Simon said the "onus of this deadlock is soley on MTA," in part because that MTA rejected the union's latest offer without providing any counter-proposal.

"MTA has clearly decided that provoking a strike is the course of action it intends to pursue," he wrote. "No further negotiations are scheduled."

The MTA, of course, tells a different story.

"The MTA recently expanded its previous offer to union leaders, granting current LIRR workers everything that they've asked for, including raises of 17%," it says in a statement on its website. "Yet the union continues to threaten to strike as early as July 20th."

Simon's union, SMART (Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union), represents 5,400 LIRR workers. Those workers have been laboring without a contract for the past four years. Last year, the White House convened two Presidential Emergency Boards to mediate the dispute, both of which sided largely with the unions. The mediation boards proposed that LIRR provide the aforementioned 17% raise but also start collecting modest health care contributions. According to Simon, SMART is now willing to accept that proposal but MTA is not.

The transit authority has run seriously low on cash in recent years, in large part due to the recent financial collapse, which devastated tax revenues in the state. In addition to LIRR, the MTA operates the New York City subway system and numerous other rail and bus lines; one 2012 report found the MTA would need to spend $20 billion between 2015 and 2019 just to keep all of those lines in good repair. That estimate did not include the cost of planned service expansions.