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Deal reached to avert LIRR strike and settle contract

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NEW YORK (PIX11) – A deal has been reached to avert a Long Island Rail Road strike that would have ground trains to a halt for 300,000 daily riders.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced at a Thursday afternoon news conference that the MTA and union representatives agreed on a "compromise" to avoid a work stoppage that was set to start this weekend.

Cuomo spoke from his Manhattan office, where both both parties met to continue their negotiations in a change of scene that suggested a possible move had been made toward a deal.

The governor underscored the importance of the rail system which serves an island that, due to its configuration, doesn't officer residents many transportation options.

"If the LIRR goes down, all of Long Island suffers, Cuomo said.

Cuomo spoke from his Manhattan office, where both parties met Thursday to continue their negotiations in a change of scene that suggested a possible move had been made toward a deal.

MTA Chairman Thomas F. Prendergrast called the agreement "fair and reasonable."

"I want to express my thanks to all the LIRR employees who continued to provide safe and reliable service through these discussions, and to our customers who can now be assured of uninterrupted service," Prendergrast said.

Anthony Simon, president of the United Transportation Union, echoed that sentiment.

"Our workers move hundreds of thousands of commuters a day and their services are integral to the New York economy," Simon said. On behalf of 5,400 hardworking union members involved in these negotiations, I thank the Governor for his efforts, and the MTA for coming to a compromise."

A strike could have cost up to $50 million in lost economic activity each day, state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said.

The terms of Thursday's agreement include:

  • A 17 percent raise for current LIRR employees over 6 1/2 years (MTA had offered the same percent raise over 7 years, and the unions wanted the raises over 6 years)
  • All employees will, for the first time, contribute to their health care costs
  • New employees will have different wage progressions and pension plan contributions than current workers

Further details were not released to the public.

The contract will not affect MTA fares, the governor said. A fare and toll hike had been previously planned for 2015.

It still must be approved by the eight Long Island Rail Road unions' executive boards, a majority of their 5,400 members and the MTA Board.

The negotiations were characterized by fits and starts, with LIRR unions and MTA officials traveling to Washington, D.C., last week to ask for federal help resolving their issues. But Congress said it would not step into the fray.

Talks broke down Monday after a 45-minute meeting that ended with union leaders saying they were prepared to go on strike at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

Both sides returned to the bargaining table Wednesday to try to break the stalemate. That's when Cuomo agreed to join the negotiations.

The MTA and the union that represents some thousands of rail workers have been battling over how much future LIRR employees will have to pay into their pensions and healthcare coverage, and the timing of raises for new hires.

LIRR employees have been working without a contract since 2010.