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MTA Rejects LIRR Contract Proposal, Possible Summertime Strike Looming

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The possibility of a Long Island Rail Road work strike is a step closer now that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has rejected a mediator's contract proposal.

As WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs reported Thursday, LIRR union workers have been without a contract for three and a half years. That contract drought will continue because the MTA has rejected a White House mediator's proposal to end the dispute.

The proposal offered up by the Presidential Emergency Board was rejected by the MTA at a meeting of the National Mediation Board. President Barack Obama formed the board in November.

MTA Rejects LIRR Contract Proposal, Possible Summertime Strike Looming

Both sides are now thrust into a 60-day cooling off period before a second appointed mediator will likely make another attempt to reach a deal.

If the two sides are still at an impasse in July, the unions could legally go on strike, Xirinachs reported. The LIRR serves on average 300,000 riders per day, CBS 2's Marcia Kramer reported.

"The unions are prepared as we have been prepared for anything that comes our way," United Transportation Union General Chairman Anthony Simon said. "All of our strike captains are in place we're hoping to never use them."

"We prepare for any eventuality. We're starting to make some preparations if we need to to prepare for something in the future," added MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg.

It might just be sabre rattling, Kramer reported. After all, if a strike happens it would be LIRR's first since 1994.

The dispute is over pay raises and union givebacks. The MTA said it can't afford any increases.

"It's not everything everybody wants, but we can't be having sour grapes because it didn't go the union's way," Simon said.

The MTA wants things like:

* Elimination of double pay for engineers who work on both a diesel and electric train within the same day

* Split-shift changes so that people who work the morning and evening rush hours have duties in the middle of the day

Railroad officials said if they accepted the White House proposal fares would go up far more than the 4 percent scheduled for next year.

"If we suddenly had a big hit to our budget because of an unfavorable labor settlement we'd have to find some way to pay for that," Lisberg said.

Riders Kramer spoke to Thursday were understandably worried.

"It would be awful, very awful," one person said.

"I think it's horrible. I think it puts the commuters and the business community in a very difficult bind," added Phyllis Mehalaken of Babylon.

"Who wants to drive their car to Manhattan and back?" another rider said.

The negotiations will also have a political component. The MTA is a state agency. Andrew Cuomo is the governor and he'll certainly have a say. And since he's running for re-election this year he'll have to decide who means more to him -- the eight LIRR unions or the hundreds of thousands of Long Island residents who ride the trains, Kramer reported.

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