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February 14, 2016

‘Anxiety’ About Possible LIRR Strike Has Andrew Cuomo Thinking of Congress

Gov. Cuomo Disaster Relief

Cuomo, visiting Capitol Hill in late 2012 to push for disaster relief funding. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is looking to Congress to avert a Long Island Rail Road strike that could cripple New York City’s economy.

Some state legislators have urged Cuomo to bring the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the unions representing LIRR workers to the table and use his persuasive powers to settle their dispute.

The MTA and the unions are meeting Tuesday. The unions could stop work as early as July 20, under rules established by an emergency board created by President Barack Obama.

Cuomo, a Democrat who is running for a second term this November, told reporters Monday that the possibility of a LIRR strike “causes so much anxiety I don’t even like to think about it. There is no good alternative to the LIRR on Long Island. The commute would be horrendous, however we do it.”

The commuter line is vital to New York City’s economy: On an average weekday, more than 285,000 workers use it to get to and from the city.

But for now, Cuomo is handing off to Congress.

“It’s actually Congress that can end a strike and impose a settlement one way or the other,” he said. “So right now it seems that Congress is pivotal to what happens here, and from what I read in the newspapers it’s going to depend on what Congress intends to do….”

Cuomo added that “Congress can order a settlement, Congress can order mediation, Congress can order arbitration, Congress can do almost whatever they want, because they are in control of the resolution of the strike.”

According to the Congressional Research Service, under the Railway Labor Act, in past rail disputes Congress has adopted recommendations from presidential emergency boards, “effectively imposing a new agreement on the parties.”

A skeptic might say it’s a case of excessive optimism for Cuomo to imagine that Congress will take action to head off a LIRR strike.

Right now Congress is stymied on how to refill the Highway Trust Fund, on how to an overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, and, in the Senate, even on how to handle what used to be routine appropriations bills.

Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said Cuomo “certainly hasn’t shied away from labor disputes in the past. So I don’t think that’s the issue as much as in the short term, he wants to keep his options open and play as many cards as possible. And the first big one is to turn it back to Congress.”

But Miringoff added, “Clearly a strike is very disruptive and I wouldn’t be surprised that [even] if he’s not directly involved visibly, back channels would be used” to spur the two sides to come to terms. “But I wouldn’t expect him to get involved until the ninth inning.”

Miringoff said Cuomo turning to Congress “gives him some initial cover” and “that politically buys him some time so the first wave of animus – if that’s where we end up – is pointed toward Washington.”

If Congress doesn’t act in the LIRR dispute and a strike does begin, Miringoff said, Cuomo is likely to act. “The last thing he wants is disruption on the LIRR in a re-election year.”

A new Marist Poll on Cuomo’s race against Republican Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, will be released Tuesday evening. In the last Marist poll in March, Cuomo had a 40 percentage point lead over Astorino.

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  1. Rocco Pucci

    July 9, 2014
    10:08 a.m.

    Passing the buck.

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