Pressure Grows on Congress to Intervene in N.Y. Commuter Rail Standoff
Posted at 9:07 a.m. on July 9, 2014
Another day closer to a potential commuter rail strike that could make life misery for workers who ride into New York City from the Long Island suburbs, Metropolitan Transportation Authority head Thomas Prendergast asked congressional leaders whether they will intervene in the dispute between the MTA and labor unions representing 5,400 rail workers.
Prendergast said a LIRR strike, which could begin as early as July 20, would “paralyze the nation’s largest regional economy.”
After an unsuccessful negotiating session Tuesday between the MTA and the unions, Prendergast will be in Washington Wednesday to confer with members of Congress.
In a letter to congressional leaders released Tuesday, Prendergast asked for “clarification on what role Congress intends to play” if union members strike on July 20, as they’re allowed to do under federal law.
He said that the Railway Labor Act “gives commuter railroad employees the right to strike, which is a right that no other public employee in the State of New York has. Once LIRR employees walk off the job, absent a settlement, it will require an act of Congress to bring these employees back to work.”
The MTA chief said “the union’s leadership has made a tactical decision that Congress will intervene on their behalf in the event of a strike. As a result, the union’s leadership has been unwilling to work constructively with the MTA to come to an agreement.”
He said Congress could do nothing, or could pass a resolution calling for an extension of a cooling-off period. Or alternatively, Prendergast said, Congress could impose a settlement.
One of the union leaders involved in the negotiations, Anthony Simon, general chairman at SMART/UTU – Transportation Division, portrayed the MTA as intransigent.
He told reporters after Tuesday’s negotiating session, “We are not looking for congressional intervention. We are looking for a reasonable offer…. We want to talk. We are available 24/7.”
He said, “Let’s get this deal done. Let’s not look to Congress. Let’s not look to anybody but both parties on both side to negotiate this settlement now.”
Rep. Steve Israel, D- N.Y., whose district includes New York City suburbs such as Huntington and Glen Cove that are home to thousands of commuters, said Tuesday evening, “We need all hands on deck at all levels of government working to avoid a strike. I don’t think that depending on Congressional action is the right course considering that there’s no promise that the House Republican Majority will take up the issue at all. If the votes aren’t there, it’s even more vital that everyone stick with commuters and avoid a strike.”
The implication seemed to be that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo may need to step in to avert a commuting nightmare for nearly 300,000 New Yorkers.
Cuomo said Monday that he wouldn’t intervene in the dispute and suggested a solution would need to come from Congress, which, he said, “can do almost whatever they want, because they are in control of the resolution of the strike.”