(Details on deal and political impact)
By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK, July 17 A threatened strike on New
York's Long Island Rail Road was averted on Thursday when the
transit authority and labor unions reached a tentative contract
deal, bringing relief to thousands of riders who had been
dreading a painful commute.
The announcement came after Governor Andrew Cuomo urged
leaders from the state-controlled Metropolitan Transportation
Authority and the eight unions representing about 5,400 rail
workers to meet at his New York City office to resolve their
"There's no doubt there was a very wide gulf that had to be
crossed and the good news is that they did," Cuomo said at a
press conference where he was flanked by Thomas Prendergast, the
MTA's chairman and CEO, and Anthony Simon, the unions' chief
With less than three months to go before the November
elections, the deal was widely viewed as a political victory for
Cuomo. The governor appeared relaxed, swapped jokes with
reporters, and suggested that stepping in to solve a crisis was
something he did on top of his "day job."
"If there is a crisis and I can be of help, I believe that
is my role," he said.
Experts warned that the unions, however, may find themselves
haunted in the future by their concessions.
The unions had threatened to walk out over the weekend,
leaving roughly 145,000 weekday riders on the nation's busiest
commuter railroad scrambling to travel between New York City and
the suburbs and harming the region's businesses.
Cuomo said the deal fairly compensates "valued employees,"
who do an often dangerous job, without requiring an additional
fare increase or straining the transit system's capital repairs
and improvement program.
The contract gives existing railroad employees a 17 percent
pay raise over 6 1/2 years but asks them to pay contributions
toward their healthcare benefits for the first time. It still
must be ratified by union members and approved by the MTA's
Cuomo said both sides had compromised on the contract, which
was based on recommendations made by two emergency arbitration
boards appointed by President Barack Obama. The workers had been
without a contract since 2010 and the new deal will
retroactively cover the past four years.
The MTA, which previously rejected the board
recommendations, agreed to give the pay increase over 6 1/2
years rather than the seven in its last offer.
The unions gave up their resistance to future hires being
asked to pay more toward their pensions and having slower wage
increases than current employees. The unions had argued this
would create an unfair two-tier system.
Political analysts said clearest winner may be the governor.
"It looked like things were not going well and then it
looked like he then got in the middle and then things got
better," said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist
Institute for Public Opinion. "It sure does a lot better for him
than having a railroad strike during his campaign."
Gregory DeFreitas, a labor expert at Hofstra's Long Island
University, said the unions' agreeing to have future hires join
on less generous terms could erode support among workers.
"For years to come, they are going to be dealing with
simmering irritation of newer workers that they've got a raw
deal and the older workers sold them down the river," he said.
Commuters and businesses reacted to the news with relief.
"Amen! Amen! Amen!" Ken Stein, president of the Sayville
Ferry Service, said in a telephone interview. He feared a strike
would harm his business, which typically ferries 5,000
passengers - 40 percent of them LIRR riders - from Long Island
to Fire Island on a busy July weekend day. "A very big 'phew!'"
(Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Barbara Goldberg,
Curtis Skinner and Natasja Sheriff; Editing by Bill Trott and