LIRR strike: Talks to continue as deadline looms

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Josh Einiger reports from Penn Station. (WABC)

Negotiations aimed at avoiding a walkout at the nation's largest commuter railroad continued through the night with both sides making themselves available to each other.

They will resume face-to-face communications Thursday at 10 a.m. in Manhattan.

Could it be the breakthrough that leads finally to a contract?

"We're committed, we are all staying the night, we are not leaving until we can get this done," said Anthony Simon, the chief union negotiator.

"We've been here all day, they've been here all day, we'll be back tomorrow, they say they'll be back tomorrow," said Adam Lisberg, MTA.

For the first time all week, negotiators for the LIRR's eight unions and the MTA itself actually sounded optimistic.

A nearly five-hour negotiating session ended with both sides acting like they didn't hate each other. "We're hoping to get some of this rhetoric out of the way so we can get to some real negotiation," Simon said.

They had no such concern on Monday.

Their last meeting, lasted barely 45 minutes. Then, there was a 48 hour impasse over health care contributions the MTA wants from future employees.

It looked like the LIRR's next stop was a strike for the first time in two decades.

But Wednesday morning, the governor ordered both sides back to the table. And by the end of the day they took a break for the night to crunch numbers, promising to stay in constant contact.

It sure seems like the temperature has dropped, even if they refuse to admit it.

"I'm not going to characterize temperature or humidity," Lisberg said.

Still for commuters, it's the first glimmer of hope in days.

The unions have threatened to strike at 12:01 a.m. Sunday if they do not get a deal.

MTA officials launched a PR offensive Wednesday, releasing an open letter titled "When is Enough Enough?" and a radio ad that outline the latest contract offer the MTA has put on the table.

The MTA says it is offering to raise salaries 17 percent without raising fares or delaying service improvements by making modest changes for workers who haven't even been hired yet.

MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast has said his negotiators are trying to find an agreement that would avoid a potential rate increase in the future.

A walkout would affect nearly 300,000 daily riders, creating a commuting nightmare in and around the nation's largest city.

The talks come a day after members of the IBEW, one of the eight LIRR unions, picked up their strike signs and discussed possible picket locations.

The MTA last week revealed plans for school buses to take commuters from some Long Island stations to subway stops in New York City, the opening of large park-and-ride lots at Citi Field and Aqueduct racetrack, and a public relations effort aimed at encouraging people to work from home.

The railroad's unions have been working without a contract since 2010. President Barack Obama appointed two emergency boards to help resolve the dispute, but the MTA rejected both nonbinding recommendations. The emergency board's last proposal called for a 17 percent raise over six years while leaving work rules and pensions alone. The MTA offered a 17 percent wage increase over seven years and the pension and health care concessions.


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