Massapequa (WALK) - If you take the Long Island Rail Road to work every morning, you may soon be scrambling for another ride.
The LIRR's largest union voted last night to approve a possible strike, as early as next month. The vote by members of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union was unanimous, 500 votes to none. A walkout is not a certainty, however, since the LIRR's parent agency, the MTA, hasn't exhausted all mediation efforts yet.
About 6,000 LIRR employees have worked without a contract since 2010. The sticking point has been a three-year wage freeze that's being demanded by the MTA, the LIRR's parent agency. According to the MTA, they will have to raise fares 12% without a wage freeze.
Not everyone agrees with that, however, including mediators who've been trying to negotiate a settlement. A Presidential Emergency Board made of up neutral negotiators listened to experts on both sides and then delivered a proposed contract settlement in December. The board said that the MTA could afford to give workers modest pay hike of about 2.85% a year for the next 6 years without raising fares any higher than a 4% increase already adopted for 2015.
MTA bosses shot down the board's proposed contract settlement last month. They won't consider a contract with pay hikes unless they are offset by other labor concessions, such as eliminating some work rules or increasing employee contributions to health care benefits. The proposed settlement actually does suggest that workers begin contributing 2% of their base pay for health care.
The SMART union represents about 2,700 LIRR conductors, train mechanics and cleaners. Several smaller unions have already authorized an LIRR strike and two more are scheduled to take strike votes this week as well.
Under federal law, LIRR unions can legally go on strike as early as March 21st unless the MTA requests new hearings before a second board of mediators. If the impasse continues despite a second proposal from that second board, the unions could legally strike this summer.
Photo: Adam E. Moreira