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Associated Press - Reps: Don't Count on Congress to End LIRR Dispute

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Location: Mineola, NY

Several members of the New York House delegation in Washington met Wednesday with the head of the Long Island Rail Road's parent organization, telling him -- and pronouncing later to union leaders -- that they should not count on Congress to resolve a long-running contract dispute at the nation's largest commuter railroad.

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 railroad's parent organization rejected both non-binding recommendations, and the unions voted to authorize a strike July 20.

"No one should bet on Congress stepping into this," Rep. Peter King told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday following a meeting with Metropolitan Transportation Authority President Thomas Prendergast.

King and several other House members in New York's delegation said they agreed that a solution to the labor issues should be resolved at the bargaining table.

"Mr. Prendergast says the parties are close to a deal," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney. "I hope that's true because the clock is ticking."

The last emergency board proposal called for a 17 percent raise over six years while leaving work rules and pensions alone. The MTA is offering a 17 percent wage increase over seven years and also is seeking concessions including requiring current employees to contribute 2 percent of regular pay toward health care costs.

Currently, LIRR workers don't contribute toward their health insurance.

Both sides met in Manhattan on Tuesday with a federal mediator. A strike could affect 300,000 daily riders, most of whom travel to New York City.

The head of the railroad's commuter council encouraged the sides to reach a deal that would avoid a strike without forcing a fare increase. The council offered up its Long Island offices to spur the negotiations.

"To put it succinctly, we want no strike and no hike," council chairman Mark Epstein said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated earlier this week he would not intervene in the dispute.

"It is now clear that the only path to resolution is at the bargaining table between the MTA and the unions, and they should proceed in good faith," Cuomo said. "A strike is just not an option and would be a terrible failure by both the unions and the MTA."

Christopher Natale, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen Local 56, which represents some of the LIRR workers involved in the dispute, said he expected negotiations to resume Thursday.

"We did not understand the purpose of the MTA chairman seeking congressional help at this point while there still is time to negotiate," he said.


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