February 24, 2014
By Marc Bussanich
Brooklyn, NY—A coalition of labor unions working for the Long Island Railroad announced they are prepared to go on strike unless the MTA accepts the recommendations for a new labor contract by the Presidential Emergency Board, which President Obama created in November to help resolve the dispute. Video
The Sheet Metal, Air and Transportation Union (SMART), which represents nearly half of 6,000 LIRR’s workers, along with Transport Workers Union Local 100, held a briefing at Local 100’s Brooklyn offices to say that the MTA should accept the PEB’s recommendations to avert a strike.
According to SMART, the board recommended wage increases totaling 18.4 percent over six years, or 2.9 percent, and employees begin contributing to health insurance costs.
But the MTA rejected the board’s recommendations, saying that any wage increases must be accompanied by work rule changes because of tenuous finances.
The board, however, ruled the MTA could pay. It stated that, “It simply cannot be concluded that the MTA’s current financial position is one in which it is unable to pay for wage adjustments that are otherwise warranted.”
Anthony Simon, SMART’s chairman, was asked about whether the union could live with any work rule changes.
“It took us 100 years of givebacks to get the [current] work rules. They [MTA] now want to pay dollar for dollar; the board recognized that if [the MTA is] going to pay dollar for dollar for work rules, why [should] we address it. It doesn’t save any money, said Simon.
TWU Local 100’s president, John Samuelsen, said his union, also working without a new MTA contract, is prepared to support LIRR workers. He was asked how could Local 100 provide significant support when the union isn’t legally allowed to strike due to the Taylor Law.
“We do not have a contract with the Long Island Railroad. We absolutely will refuse to work on the Long Island Railroad. We will support this strike. The Taylor Law doesn’t apply to TWU Local 100 being ordered to work on the Long Island Railroad,” Samuelsen said.
Joel Parker of the Transportation Communication Union, who is advising SMART in its ongoing dispute with the LIRR, said in all his years in the railroad industry, he’s never experienced a railroad operator defy a PEB order.
According to Parker, the MTA wants to scrap the PEB order and start negotiations all over again.
“This is unprecedented and reckless behavior. If it is allowed to continue, it will result in a shutdown of vital transportation in the city of New York,” said Parker.
The union and the MTA have accepted an invitation by the National Mediation Board to meet next week in Washington, D.C., to discuss the contract impasse.
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