July 14, 2014
By Beth Borzone
Long Island – LIRR union leaders and MTA officials head back to the bargaining table on Monday, in an effort to avoid a strike that could occur on July 20th if the two sides do not come to an agreement.
Monday’s meeting follows a week of tense negotiations. Last Tuesday, the two sides met, but talks went nowhere and MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast released a letter to Congress charging that“union’s leadership has taken the position that the MTA must meet its demands or it will strike, a threat they feel comfortable making because they assume Congress will stop their strike after a few days.” Prendergast also went to Washington D.C. to ask Congress if they planned to intervene in the crisis.
The LIRR unions followed suit with their own letter to Congress to “set the record straight.” Their letter argued that the unions have been bargaining in good faith since June 2010 and have meticulously followed the process outlined in the Railway Labor Act of 1926, which has led to two Presidential Emergency Boards (PEBs) making recommendations that the unions have insisted should be followed.
The four-year negotiations process that the unions have undergone is summarized in PEB 245:
On May 28, 2010, the LIRR formally notified the unions of changes it wanted to make in rates of pay, rules and working conditions. The parties were unable to resolve their issues in direct negotiations, so the unions filed for mediation with the National Mediation Board in 2010, 2011, and 2013.
All parties worked with the mediation board, but no agreement was reached, and in October of 2013, the National Mediation Board urged both sides to submit their collective bargaining disputes to arbitration, but both sides refused.
Once the National Mediation Board’s services had been terminated, a 30-day “cooling off” period began, after which the unions would legally be allowed to strike.
In order to prevent a strike, the LIRR followed the procedures in the Railway Labor Act and requested that the President establish an Emergency Board to investigate and issue a report and recommendations. The members of the Presidential Emergency Board were neutral parties, who had served in this capacity under both republican and democratic presidents.
On December 21, 2013 the Presidential Emergency Board #244 (PEB # 244) issued its report and recommendations, but this did not resolve the dispute.
On January 15, 2014, the National Mediation Board conducted a public hearing during which the unions agreed to accept the recommendations of PEB #244, but the MTA refused to do so.
On March 5, 2014, as allowed by the RLA, the MTA requested another PEB to recommend the adoption of a final offer from those submitted by the parties.
After a thorough and detailed investigation of the dispute and an analysis of both offers PEB #245 concluded that “the Unions’ final offer is the most reasonable.”
Unions insist that the process outlined in the RLA should be respected.
“When Congress crafted Section 9a of the Railway Labor Act,” the union letter stated, “it was with the express intent of avoiding commuter railroad strikes. And until today the PEB process has largely succeeded in resolving disputes peacefully. Since 1994, there have been twenty PEBs, many involving commuter railroads. In every case settlements were reached based on the Board’s recommendations.”
In their letter, the unions insisted that to ignore the recommendations of the PEBs would set a negative precedent for the future.
“We believe it would be totally at odds with the express purpose of Section 9a of the Railway Labor Act to reward MTA’s intransigence by ignoring the recommendations of both PEB 244 and 245 and establishing yet another dispute resolution tribunal. To do so would send a clear signal that any party whose last best offer is rejected by the second PEB could refuse to settle and instead appeal to Congress for another bite at the apple. To do so would nullify the clear intent of Section 9a,” the letter stated.
By Thursday, Congress announced that it would not intervene and MTA and the unions were back at the bargaining table.
The unions did submit a counter-proposal to MTA’s latest offer and are waiting to hear the MTA’s response on Monday.
“We gave the MTA our counter offer and we are waiting for their response,” said Anthony Simon, General Chairman, Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation General Committee of Adjustment 505.
Meanwhile, the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, 32BJ, SEIUsent out a strike checklist out to members on July 3rd, preparing for a strike should talks break down, according to a NCFO memo to members.