July 2014 Union Strike

A tentative deal between the MTA and LIRR Unions to avert a July Strike has been reached. See this post for more information.

Thursday, July 17

Tentative Agreement Reached, July LIRR Strike Averted

In a press conference that just wrapped up, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast, and LIRR Union Labor Coalition leader Anthony Simon were together in front of the media in what felt like a very familiar situation.

Simon, Cuomo, and Prendergast at a press conference
announcing a deal earlier this afternoon.
The two sides had announced that they had reached a tentative agreement, an agreement that would avert a potential LIRR work stoppage this Sunday. While the first several minutes of the press conference consisted of each of the three parties patting each other on the back and saying how great they all were, those of us looking to get some actual numbers out of it were sitting on the edge of our seats.

Eventually, the leaders gave us a quick overview of the contract’s provisions. Members of the negotiating unions will get 17% wage increases over a contract period of 6.5 years. This does fall pretty close to the middle point between each of the agencies most recent offers (the unions pushed 17% over 6 years, the MTA over 7 years), though it is far from the MTA’s previous offers.

But the question that was everybody was wondering about was just how is this going to be paid for? While we are likely quite a while from getting any real details about the deal, it seems as if the parties have agreed to increased healthcare contributions (of an unknown percentage) for all employees, and changes to the wage-progression system for new employees. Under this tentative agreement, LIRR employees will begin to contribute to their healthcare costs for the first time, and new employees will take longer to reach top pay. We were mildly reassured that the deal would not have a significant impact on fare increases or the capital program. They always say that the devil is in the details, and since we haven’t gotten all of the details yet, we shouldn’t bet the mortgage on anything at this moment. It’s likely that fare increases of 7.5% instead of 4% are still likely, and the total impact on the MTA’s Capital Program is another large unknown.

More information on this deal will be made known over the coming days and weeks, but as it stands now, the unions are set to vote on the contract by August 15th, and the MTA Board at their September meeting. Both parties now have to agree to the contract their leadership crafted, so we aren’t free and clear just yet. Additionally, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers will be getting into the messy part of their contract negotiations in a short while, as they have traditionally negotiated separately from most of the other LIRR unions. Also, the moment that this 6.5 year contract is approved, we will automatically be 4 years into it, as the start date is retroactive to 2010, when the last contract expired. That means that this contract will only be in effect for just about three more years before we have to begin this whole process again.

With this contract, however, there was no mention of any changes whatsoever in things like work rules or overtime practices, so the MTA has missed a big opportunity to make the LIRR more streamlined and efficient.

A strike has been averted and a tentative deal reached; it’s certainly reason to breathe a sigh of relief, but like I said earlier, until we know the specific details of this particular contract, we should not be so quick to jump for joy.

Wednesday, July 16

It Takes Two to Negotiate

It was recently announced that the MTA and the representatives from the LIRR union labor coalition would resume contract negotiation talks sometime today in an effort to agree upon a contract before the end of the current, and final, cooling-off period. Beginning at 12:01am Sunday morning, almost 5,500 LIRR workers represented by eight different unions could legally strike—and they have said that they certainly intend on doing so, should the two sides still be in disagreement come “zero hour.”

However, while one might be glad that the two sides are coming back to the table once more, I can’t help but wonder if the two sides meeting again will actually result in anything meaningful. The more recent bouts of negotiations have been growing shorter and shorter with an apparent “gulf” existing between the two sides.

As the negotiations have progressed, it is becoming increasingly clear that one side isn’t really interested in negotiating. At the very beginning of this whole process, the MTA was holding firm to the importance of a net-zero contract, where any wage increase would have to be balanced one-for-one with givebacks. Since then, the MTA has moved on their position three different times, there most recent offer to the unions consisted of 17% wage increases over seven years with not all that much in terms of givebacks—far from net-zero.

However, on the other side of the table, the unions have grabbed onto the Presidential Emergency Board’s decision, and have been clutching onto it ever so tightly. Time and time again the unions have just submitted the same exact offer recommended by the PEB. To date, the unions have come down just 0.15%, fifteen one-hundredths of a percent, off their original offer.

The whole point of negotiating is compromise—meeting someplace in the middle. Taking the same deal you proposed last time, changing the font size, and then calling it a “counter offer” isn’t really negotiating.

Earlier this week, MTA Spokesman Adam Lisberg said that “this is not a labor negotiation, it’s a hostage negotiation.” MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast said that throughout the whole negotiation process, which is supposed to involve some give and take, “we’ve done giving, they’ve done taking.”

It’s clear at this point which side is not interested in negotiating in good faith. While it’s nice to see the two sides back at it again, one can’t help but wonder that if MTA officials are taking time out of what must understandably be quite a hectic week leading up to a potential strike just to see the unions present the same old offer, just in Comic Sans MS font this time, their time might be better spent elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 15

Backlog of Garbage to be Moved Out by Rail

In other LIRR-related news, a temporary deal is in place among several private companies in the trash business to move some 10,000 tons of garbage from various facilities on the East End off of Long Island by rail.  A shortage of flatbed trucks coming to Long Island has resulted in waste managed by Progressive Waste Solutions at facilities in Holtsville and Yaphank piling up to alarming levels. As of last Friday, officials were just waiting to get the final authorization from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to move the trash off Long Island by rail.

Under the plan, garbage generated in the towns of Southampton, East Hampton, and Southold would be hauled by truck to a facility in Brentwood where they would be transferred onto rail cars for a trip to Kentucky.  The sealed garbage would be loaded onto gondolas near the NY&AR's Pineaire yard, where they would be carried west over that grade crossing Glendale NIMBYs consider "extremely dangerous" to Fresh Pond Yard, the NY&AR's main classification yard.  From there they would be sent up over the Hell Gate Bridge, up and over the Selkirk Hurdle, and back down to Kentucky, its final destination.

For more on how what many have said Long Island's main export--trash--gets off of Long Island, check out this post for information on the route these trains take.

The towns expect the DEC to approve the temporary 30- or 60-day permit within the next few days.  At this point, it is uncertain if a potential LIRR union strike might or might not impact New York & Atlantic Railway freight operations, but I will try and see if I can get an answer from the MTA regarding that at some point today.  Overall, it would be nice to see such an arrangement become permanent.  One freight car can carry several truckloads of garbage, and the fewer trucks on roadways like the very congested LIE the better.

Update 7/16/14 6:00pm:  In an e-mail earlier today, MTA Spokesman Aaron Donovan said that New York & Atlantic Railway freight trains would continue to run in the event of a work stoppage, so the trash, and other goods to freight customers, would continue to flow in the event LIRR train service is suspended.

Winding Down LIRR Service in Advance of a Strike

As we get closer and closer to "zero hour," or 12:01am Sunday, July 20, 2014, the point at which members of eight different LIRR unions currently going through some rocky contract negotiations can legally strike, the prospects of somehow getting through this dispute with out some sort of self-help action grow dimmer and dimmer.  As the unions proceed with strike plans for July 20th, some have wondered if the LIRR will begin to dial back service in advance of the strike.

When the clock strikes 12:01 am on Sunday morning, crews currently working trains can continue their current runs and/or finish their current shift, at which point they would leave the property and would not be allowed back in until the work stoppage is over.  As the schedule stands now, there will be twenty-three different LIRR trains and just a hair over 3,000 riders in motion all across Long Island (from F interlocking at the mouth of the East River Tunnels all the way to Amagansett).  The railroad can go full steam ahead into Saturday night and just leave things where they end up, but it seems more likely that they will begin to scale back service in advance of a strike so that they can put the equipment in certain, planned places so that it would be able to remain safe during a strike and be quickly retrieved when service is restored.

In yesterday's press conference, embedded in this post, the MTA made it sound like they would indeed be scaling back service before "zero hour" so that everything can get to its proper place before the striking unions walk off the job.

Neither the MTA nor the LIRR have made it clear when they plan on stepping service down, or to what extent they plan on doing so.  In an announcement Monday, union coalition leader Anthony Simon mentioned that "winding down of service will begin well before [12:01am on July 20th], perhaps as early as Wednesday."  However, following the MTA's press conference on Monday afternoon, it is sounding like that any reduction in service is not likely to start happening until we get closer to the weekend, most likely Saturday.

Over the course of the day Saturday seems like the more likely option, considering that even when the hurricanes came, the MTA only needed a day or so of advanced warning to stash everything away, and this time they don't have to do things like remove crossing gates, shrink-wrap TVM's, inflate giant, water-filled dams at the mouth of West Side Yard.  They'll likely start to shift everything into their desired locations over the course of Saturday and service would conclude sometime Saturday evening.  But for the moment, I wouldn't be too worried about this particular workweek.

The biggest variable here will be what the LIRR does with the Summer Hamptons trains, or if people will try and sneak off to the east end to recoup at least a portion of this summer weekend.  The current Summer Hamptons equipment rotations will leave four sets of diesel equipment in Montauk Yard at "zero hour" (the equipment from trains 2708f, 2712f, 2718f, and 8712a) so perhaps the LIRR will annul some of the Friday runs, run some of the Sunday extras on Saturday, or sneak the equipment back to Speonk or Jamaica under the cover of darkness Saturday morning.

Anything could happen at this point, and it's a bit early to tell what exactly they will do, but I will most certainly come back and update you if the MTA releases any further plans.

Update 7/16/14 6:00pm: I asked the MTA what, if anything, they had planned to dial back service in advance of a strike, and they said that their first priority is still resolving this at the negotiating table, yadda, yadda, yada, but in the interest of safety and so that no one is stranded in the event of a strike, their goal would be to ensure that no trains would be moving at "zero hour", or 12:01am Sunday morning.  To ensure that can happen, the MTA expects to publish a list of “last trains” to originate on each branch. Annulments would begin around 9:00pm Saturday evening, with longer-distance trains being the first ones to be annulled.

Monday, July 14

Labor Negotiations Collapse, Unions Proceeding with Strike Plans

Shortly after today’s negotiations between the unions and the MTA began, the two sides came out saying that negotiations had collapsed, and that the two sides were about as far apart as you can get. In a statement, union leader Anthony Simon said that “all eight unions are now proceeding with strike plans for July 20” and that “the strike will begin 12:01 am this Sunday.” Additionally, Simon’s announcement also stated that the LIRR may have to begin winding down service as early as Wednesday in order to secure equipment in advance of a strike.

At the moment, no further negotiations are scheduled and all hope of potentially avoiding a work stoppage seems slimmer than ever.

The MTA held a press conference at 3:00pm Monday where MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast updated everyone on the latest in the negotiations and answered questions from the media.  The press conference was streamed online and the archived video from the press conference is embedded below:

I'll have several posts on a number of the "talking points" in the coming days, as well as any updates to events. As always, keep your eye on this page for new posts, and the LIRR Today's various Social Media accounts.
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