Editorial: Don’t let politics derail LIRR commuters

With a July 20 deadline looming, the MTA is running out of time to avert a Long Island Rail Road Strike.

That’s one reason the agency chose to make its most recent contract offer public — they want to convince riders that they are doing as much as possible to get a contract. MTA officials insist they’ve been trying to compromise, and if a strike happens, they hope riders will take their side in this fight.

The most recent proposal gives the LIRR’s 5,400 unionized workers the 17 percent raise they want. But it would come over seven years, instead of six.

The biggest difference between the union demands and the MTA’s proposal is in the treatment of new employees. The MTA wants new employees to contribute four percent of pay toward health insurance, work twice as long to get to top pay and permanently contribute to their pensions; currently workers only contribute during the first 10 years on the job.

The unions say this proposal is an attempt to turn union workers against each other; the MTA says it is the only way to pay for raises without taking even more money away from major projects.

LIRR union leaders are insisting on a deal more like the one outlined in May by a White House panel. There’s also pressure from international union leaders to hold firm and get the recommended deal so it can be used as a model for other railroad unions. The international unions represent 1.1 million workers, many of whom work for big private freight companies across the nation. That could turn into one of the stumbling blocks in these negotiations: because the LIRR is regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration, many of its employees are in the same union as private-sector freight rail workers.

Any deal needs to be in the best interest of New Yorkers, the MTA, its employees and LIRR riders — not an international union that represents workers for private freight haulers.