(Adds talks under way, quotes, details)
By Natasja Sheriff
NEW YORK, July 17 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
took the lead on Thursday in talks aimed at averting a strike
on the Long Island Rail Road, the nation's busiest commuter
Three days before the threatened walkout at 12:01 a.m. EDT
(0401 GMT) on Sunday, Cuomo called a meeting in his New York
office between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)
and union bosses representing 5,400 rail workers. The meeting
started at 10 a.m. Thursday.
A strike would leave roughly 145,000 daily commuters from
New York City's suburbs on Long Island scrambling for
alternative transport. Those riders make an average total of
285,000 trips per weekday, the MTA said.
"I want to make sure I have done everything I can possibly
do to avert a strike," Cuomo said in a statement.
"Time is very short. We are less than 48 hours from the
point at which the railroad would commence closing procedures,"
Although the deadline for the labor action is early Sunday,
the MTA said it would have to begin driving trains into yards to
secure them as early as Saturday.
The MTA has offered a 17 percent pay raise over seven years,
limits to benefit contributions and continuing pension payments
for current employees. The MTA said unionized Long Island Rail
Road (LIRR) workers are among the best-paid in the nation,
making $87,000 a year on average.
A coalition of eight unions negotiating for workers have
balked at a requirement that future workers would have to make
steeper payments for their benefits, saying it would create an
unfair two-tier system among the LIRR's employees.
The meeting in the governor's office began a day after the
two sides met at Cuomo's urging on Wednesday in offices near
Times Square after talks broke down on Monday.
"Late yesterday, when the conversations had not been
fruitful, I began participating in them directly," Cuomo said.
"The possible LIRR strike would be highly disruptive to the
people and economy of Long Island."
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Jonathan Allen, Jim
Loney and Tom Brown)