Hundreds of NJ Transit workers rally in Woodbridge as deadline for strike approaches

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WOODBRIDGE, N.J. — Hundreds of New Jersey Transit rail workers rallied in a park across from the Woodbridge train station Saturday morning, demanding a decent contract as the March 13 strike deadline approaches.

They’ve been working without a contract for five years.

Officials representing New Jersey Transit, and rail workers unions, met in Washington on Friday, with both sides said to have “moved a little” as they tried to hammer out a deal.

Over the last nine months, two Presidential Emergency Boards convened by President Obama, made recommendations on wage and health care increases.

“We both put our positions to the board, and they selected ours as the most reasonable. NJ Transit rejected it. That’s why we’re here today,” David Decker, a train operator and union representative, said.

Stephen Burkert, spokesman for the rail union coalition, said the unions are looking for a 2.4 percent net increase over six and a half years.

“It’s very similar to what the Long Island Railroad got. There’s nothing exorbitant about what we’re asking for,” Burkert said.

The walkout would have a major impact on the more than 100,000 New Jersey riders who commute to New York on a daily basis.

“I definitely would have to drive to New York, and the traffic would be crazy,” NJ Transit rider Felicea Seabrook said. “I’d have to leave an extra hour or two.”

Contingency plans would accommodate a maximum of about 40,000 people each day, according to transit officials.

“I have no confidence in the backup plan, because the backup plan basically says to 60 percent of the riders, too bad. That’s not a backup plan,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, Chairman of the New Jersey General Assembly’s Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee.

“NJ Transit owes it to those riders to make sure they have a way to get to and from work. And that’s why this is such a big impact on our economy.”

Talks will continue on Monday in Newark.