It only took 45 minutes for contract negotiations to implode on Monday between Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) unions and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), sealing the deal for an LIRR strike on Sunday.
The MTA has released is contingency transportation plan in case of the strike, which involves using buses, ferries, park-and-ride lots and HOV+3 lanes to help traveling New Yorkers.
LIRR unions will strike after having worked since 2010 without a contract. All contract talks with MTA have failed to yield results.
While union workers are asking for 17 percent raises over six years, retroactive to 2010, the MTA is offering the same raise but over seven years. Unions are also agreeing to first-ever health care contributions, which would start at one percent of base pay in the early years of the contract and raise to 2.25 percent in the final year.
The MTA is also trying to negotiate for new employees to work twice as long as current staff to reach the top salaries for their positions, and pay more for their health care and pensions.
Fare hikes are not an immediate threat, but the MTA says that the requests from LIRR unions could lead to increases down the road.
Discrepancies and disagreements between the groups will culminate in a strike on Sunday, which can begin as early as 12:01 a.m.
Commuters may notice impacts to services in the days leading up to the strike, as well, as the MTA prepares for the disrupted service by securing equipment and rail yards.
MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast said that the strike is not expected to be as disruptive as the last LIRR strike in 1994.
“When the LIRR unions went on strike in 1994, Long Islanders had very limited options. There were no park-and-ride lots, no ferries, no real-time monitoring, no telecommuting,” Prendergast said. “Today, the MTA has a far stronger, more robust, multifaceted plan. Working with the State and elected officials from across Long Island and the City of New York, we are providing more shuttle buses, thousands of parking spots near subway stations, a ferry service, real-time traffic management and real-time parking monitoring.”
He said that the MTA has also reached out to employers across Long Island and the city to encourage telecommuting. At least 18,000 workers have committed to telecommuting so far.
For those who must travel, a network of 350 buses will shuttle commuters from eight locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties to three major subway stations in Queens. They will only run during rush hour — 4 to 7 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. — and only in the peak direction of travel.
A free ferry service will run from Glen Cove to East 34th St. in Midtown. Three ferries will run westbound in the morning and three will run eastbound at night. The trip will take 40 minutes and the boat can carry 1,000 passengers at a time.
Lastly, dedicated park-and-ride lots will be established in Queens and Nassau and Suffolk counties. CitiField and Aqueduct Racetrack will both serve as lots and have a combined 7,000 available parking spots.
Despite the more than 300,000 daily riders that will be affected, Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner William Bratton announced late last week that they believe they are prepared for the strike.
“We would be more than prepared to deal with those issues, additional traffic, etcetera,” Bratton said. “There’s not much we can do about traffic slow downs.”
De Blasio noted that, regardless of the preparedness of the NYPD, the preference would be to avoid the strike. He pointed out the success of labor union agreements in the past few months, such as the labor contracts signed with the United Federation of Teachers, as an example for what could be done between LIRR unions and the MTA.
“We’re very, very prepared. That being said, I would urge all involved to look at the example of what we’ve gone through just the last few months in New York City,” de Blasio said. “Very challenging issues that had be resolved, issues with labor that had been going on for three, four, five, six years, and we were able to resolve them in a spirit of cooperation.
“So I just want to urge both sides to get back to the table and try at it with all they have to avoid this disruption to the people they serve,” he added.