NEWARK, N.J. - Within the next 24 hours, New Jersey Transit rail workers may begin to prepare rail equipment for a system-wide shut down.
“A shut down is pretty complicated, and there are elements of it that could begin to happen, although invisible to the customers," said Gary Dellaverson, an attorney representing NJ Transit at the negotiating table.
"That could begin to happen as soon as sometime tomorrow," he said.
Trains are scheduled to stop running at 12:01 on Sunday morning unless the strike is averted. Talks between NJ Transit and the rail unions continued for hours behind closed doors today.
NJ Transit served over 4,200 rail workers with a notice today that stated in the event of a strike all workers would be suspended, anyone on sick leave would stop receiving sick leave benefits and all striking workers would see their insurance benefits stop on day one of the strike.
The coalition representing rail workers called the notice a threat and hurtful to ongoing negotiations:
"It is apparent that NJ Transit's notice to the Coalition members represents retaliatory action and harassment of the Coalition members. This draconian action taken by NJ Transit while the Parties are engaged in the negotiation process illustrates NJ Transits unreasonable position and unwillingness to reach an amiable solution which is fair to both Parties," said a statement by the New Jersey Transit Rail Labor Coalition.
A spokeswoman for NJ Transit said that the agency is required to send the warning to workers under federal law.
Outside of the negotiating room in Newark today, everyone going in and out remained tight-lipped about any developments inside. An attorney for NJ Transit did take questions from reporters briefly.
“What we did this morning, for the last few hours is, to be precise with one another. Not you, but be precise with one another as to the areas where there still remain differences," said Dellaverson.
Those with inside-knowledge of the way these negotiations go say that Governor Christie, despite being out-of-state, has had a vital influence over what is playing out behind closed doors. And Governor Christie's sticking point, sources say, is he wants the unions to bend when it comes to paying more for health care costs.
Martin Robins, the founding director of NJ Transit who guided the agency out of the first strike back in the 1980's, said Christie will have to back down from that position for this to be resolved.
“He picked the wrong fight. And it’s not gonna turn out exactly the way he wants and he might as well bring the thing to a closure and get keep the trains rolling on Sunday morning," said Robins.