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By Curtis Skinner
NEW YORK, July 16 The New York Metropolitan
Transportation Authority and unions representing 5,400 workers
on the Long Island Rail Road will continue talks to avert a
strike that would cripple the nation's largest commuter railway,
both sides said on Wednesday.
The parties met in offices near Times Square after talks
broke down earlier in the week, with a strike set to begin on
Sunday still looming.
Negotiations lasted nearly six hours before breaking up for
the evening, but both sides said informal contacts would
continue remotely through the night and that they would meet
again in person on Thursday morning.
"We are not going to leave the table until we can do
everything in our power to prevent a work stoppage, and that's
what we're doing. We're committed," Anthony Simon, spokesman for
the eight-union coalition, told reporters.
A strike would leave some 300,000 daily weekday commuters
from New York City's suburbs on Long Island scrambling for
Commuters at Mineola, one of the railway's busier stops in
Long Island, said they were already making contingency plans
should the strike go ahead.
Some asked city-dwelling relatives if they could bunk with
them, while others prepared to wake hours earlier than usual to
squeeze into expected heavy morning traffic on the roads.
Nursing student Jannelle Williams, 26, said she rides the
train about four times a week from her Mineola home to a college
in downtown Brooklyn.
She said her husband had agreed to drive her to the edge of
the city's subway system, although heavy traffic could double
her commute to 90 minutes.
"I do depend on the railroad. It would really suck if
they're going to strike," she said.
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 LIRR workers are
among the best-paid in the nation, with the average employee
making almost $90,000 a year.
The union coalition negotiating for workers has balked at a
requirement that future employees would have to make steeper
payments for their benefits, saying it would create an unfair
two-tier system among the LIRR's staff.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in Mineola, New York
and Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Eric Walsh and Daniel Wallis)