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With 10 Days Before Potential Strike, Still No Deal For MTA, LIRR Unions

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- With time running out, there was still no deal Thursday between Long Island Rail Road unions and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, with just 10 days to go before a strike could begin.

As CBS 2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, negotiations wrapped up for the day Thursday around 5:15 p.m. The MTA and the unions spent more than five hours with a break before calling it a day. No resolution was released, although MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast said the discussions were useful.

"We met with the Long Island Rail Road labor coalition today; had a very lengthy discussion. They came in and made a formal counteroffer, which was discussed. We've got more discussions to have with them. We're all concerned to try to reach resolution with this particular issue, and we will continue to discuss it," Prendergast said.

With 10 Days Before Potential Strike, Still No Deal For MTA, LIRR Unions

The latest round of negotiations began after members of Congress refused to intervene.

Prendergast sat down at the bargaining table for the first time Thursday, CBS 2's Kramer reported.

"We're going in here today, and we're going to sit down once again, and we are going to discuss what they consider is a counter and what we consider is a counter," Anthony Simon with the United Transportation Union told reporters prior to Thursday's meeting. "We hope they have the same ideas. We're looking to prevent work stoppage."

Prendergast said Wednesday that he would only go if he thought his presence would be helpful.

"I think it was a good stepping stone to get the chairman in the room. It was a good move forward and we'll go from there," Simon told reporters, including WCBS 880's Marla Diamond, following the negotiations.

The railroad's unions have been working without a contract since 2010.

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

The last emergency board proposal called for a 17 percent raise over six years while leaving work rules and pensions alone.

The MTA is offering a 17 percent wage increase over seven years and also is seeking concessions including requiring current employees to contribute 2 percent of regular pay toward health care costs.

More: Breakdown Of What Both Sides Want In Potential LIRR Strike

Currently, LIRR workers don't contribute toward their health insurance.

On Wednesday, several members of the New York House delegation said labor issues between the two sides should be resolved through negotiations and not by Congress.

"For anyone to be looking for a silver bullet from Congress, they would be making a big mistake," said U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). "This is ultimately a state responsibility to resolve within the state and we're not going to do anything to interfere with the negotiating process whatsoever."

"A congressional solution is not an option," added U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).

"We are demanding that both the MTA and the unions negotiate and get this solved quickly," said U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.).

In coming to Washington, Prendergast said he wanted the union to hear loud and clear that there will be no federal bailout and that the only way to avoid a world of pain for 300,000 riders is by reaching a contract settlement.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting Wednesday, Prendergast said "the parties are close" to an agreement, but said both sides "have to come to the table willing to negotiate."

"We've moved substantially from day one," he said. "We've had four different moves, the union hasn't."

Prendergast said once a strike occurs, it's hard to get back to the table and "put the genie back in the bottle."

The two sides held negotiations on Tuesday, but failed to reach an agreement. Simon said Thursday that the unions "will not leave until we settle this."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated earlier this week he would not intervene in the dispute.

"It is now clear that the only path to resolution is at the bargaining table between the MTA and the unions, and they should proceed in good faith,'' Cuomo said. "A strike is just not an option and would be a terrible failure by both the unions and the MTA.''

With 10 Days Before Potential Strike, Still No Deal For MTA, LIRR Unions

Both sides charge the other has not been negotiating in good faith, but agree a strike would be bad for LIRR riders.

"We did not understand the purpose of the MTA chairman seeking congressional help at this point while there still is time to negotiate,'' said Christopher Natale, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen Local 56.

There are no new talks scheduled, but both sides expressed commitment to try to get a deal done before the strike deadline, 1010 WINS' Al Jones reported.

Commuters told CBS 2's Hazel Sanchez they're fed up.

"I feel like it is irresponsible that they cannot come to an agreement and that 300,000 commuters have no where to turn," said Port Washington resident Stephanie Hall.

"I'm going to have to drive 45 minutes to an hour to Queens, then take the subway to the city just to get to work. I mean, at some point we should be able to come to a resolution, figure out a solution to this problem," said Bayville resident Oppong Agyemang.

"I think it's a little ridiculous considering people depend on them for so much, but a lot of people depend on them for the commute. A lot of people depend on them to support their families," said Northport resident Ian Cusack.

On Wednesday, the MTA launched a radio and print campaign to warn commuters of the potential strike. In addition to the ads, the MTA has posted a page on its website with information about potential service disruption.

In the event of a strike, the MTA has said the agency plans to have shuttle buses bring a percentage of riders to Queens, where they could catch a subway train to Manhattan.

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(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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