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Cuomo: Strike Averted As Deal Reached Between MTA, LIRR Unions

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There was handshaking and back-patting all around Thursday, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo helped broker a deal between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Long Island Rail Road unions to avoid a potentially crippling strike.

With MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast and the unions' chief negotiator, Anthony Simon, seated by his side, Cuomo said Thursday that a "compromise by both parties" had been reached earlier Thursday.

"It is my pleasure to announce today that we have settled a four-year dispute dealing with the Long Island Rail Road labor unions," Cuomo said.

MORE: Guide To Surviving The Strike | What Both Sides Wanted | Join The #LIRRStrike Conversation

The LIRR's unions representing 5,400 workers were threatening to strike starting at 12:01 a.m. Sunday if a deal wasn't reached, and a work stoppage seemed likely earlier this week when negotiations broke down.

The two sides returned to the table Thursday at Cuomo's Manhattan office, who said he began participating in talks directly after the two sides met Wednesday but failed to come to an agreement.

The governor had previously said he wouldn't intervene in the contract dispute.

Cuomo: Strike Averted As Deal Reached Between MTA, LIRR Unions

The unions have been working without a contract since 2010.

CBS 2 political reporter Marcia Kramer reported the deal to avert the strike can claim a lot of winners. The riders do not have to face a strike, the unions received big raises, and the MTA got concessions on benefits.

However, Kramer pointed out, Cuomo was the one who grabbed the brass ring as he rode in at the 11th hour and forged the compromise – and in an election year, no less.

Once the agreement was reached, Prendergast first signed it, followed by Simon, and finally Cuomo.

"I am signing, but only as a witness that they signed," Cuomo said.

However, Cuomo was anything but a witness, Kramer reported. When talks stalled Wednesday night over health and pension benefits for new employees, and over wage progressions, Cuomo stepped in and talked through the night to form a compromise.

"Compromise, by definition, means that neither side gets everything that they wanted to get," Cuomo said. "But it means that we reached an agreement, and we can move forward."

Cuomo: Strike Averted As Deal Reached Between MTA, LIRR Unions

Both sides have tried to keep the details of the deal sketchy until it was to be ratified by union membership. But the outlines include:

• A 17 percent wage hike over 6 1/2 years

• The first ever heath care contributions by the 5,400 unionized workers

• Pension and wage progressions concessions for new employees.

"There are health care savings that all employees will contribute to, and for new hires, there are wage progression and a pension plan and health care savings," Cuomo said.

Throughout negotiations, one of the main sticking points had been whether LIRR employees would have to contribute to pensions and health insurance.

The concessions will pay for the wage hikes for the MTA, which means there will be no fare hikes and no need to take money out of the budget for capital projects.

"You may not be able to achieve exactly what you want," Prendergast said. "But in the spirit of getting to a deal that's fair and reasonable, takes care of the needs of the employees, protects the commuters and MTA's long-term financial stability, that is what's required, and that is what we were able to accomplish."

"This is definitely a fair contract," added Simon. "It's a compromise by all parties to make sure we continue down the road of a safe and reliable system. This was about the riders. This definitely was about the riders."

Kramer reported the deal was especially important for Cuomo, who did not want to alienate potential voters. She asked Cuomo what his message was for Long Island commuters who suffered through a lot of "agita" – that is, anxiety, stress and aggravation – over the last several weeks as the strike threat loomed.

"There was a high degree of agita over the past few days," Cuomo said. " ... The good news is there could have been a lot more agita next week."

But Cuomo's Republican gubernatorial opponent, Rob Astorino, wasted no time in criticizing the deal – and invoking the names of two famous deceased movie critics in doing so.

"Siskel and Ebert would have given one star to Governor Cuomo's political theater," Astorino said. "It's classic Cuomo to jump in and take credit for the MTA deal, when only a couple of days ago he was telling affected Long Island commuters and businesses that a strike wouldn't be a big deal."

President Barack Obama had appointed two emergency boards to help resolve the dispute, but the MTA rejected both nonbinding recommendations and the unions voted to authorize a strike set to begin on July 20.

If a deal wasn't reached by the strike deadline, the MTA had a contingency plan in place for the LIRR's 300,000 daily commuters.

Options for commuters included shuttle buses, ferries and car pools, but officials were also urging people to telecommute if possible.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli had estimated that a strike would have caused economic losses of $50 million a day.

Cuomo said the tentative agreement is still subject to approval by the eight LIRR unions' executive boards, ratification by their membership and approval by the MTA Board.

Both sides expect the deal to be ratified, WCBS 880's Peter Haskell reported.

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