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LIRR Strike Worries Commuters

Even as they hoped the parties would reach a last-minute settlement, commuters across Long Island were scrambling last week to devise alternate plans for getting to work if Long Island Rail Road’s 5,400 workers go on strike July 20. And they were vocal in their anger with the Metropolitan Transit Authority. The strike, it seems, has roused commuter ire over a wide range of LIRR issues, from timeliness to cleanliness to costs.

“I’ll have to figure out a new way home from work,” said Marco Allicastro, a 20-year-old Queens resident waiting for a train home at the Bethpage station after a day’s work at the local King Kullen. “Long Island doesn’t really have a lot of options in terms of transportation. Maybe I should get a new job.”

It has been a long time since Long Island commuters faced a railroad strike — 20 years and one month exactly — and the last time was relatively painless. In 1994, LIRR employees walked off the job on Friday, June 17, 1994. The union and the MTA cut a deal Saturday night. The trains were running again by Sunday.

That happy outcome seems less likely this time around, with the strike deadline coming on a Sunday. There might be a last-minute settlement, but MTA leaders have already ignored the recommendation of two separate federal panels to accept the union’s offer. New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo passed the buck to Congress. Congress has refused to intercede. A strike could backfire on either party — or on any politician who gets involved.

According to MTA CEO Thomas F. Prendergast, the MTA is holding out because the union’s offer will overly burden LIRR passengers.

“I strongly believe that a resolution can be reached in a fiscally responsible manner,” Prendergast wrote to Congress.

In their own letter to Congress, union leaders pointed out that LIRR workers have been on the job without a contract since 2010.

“The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has demanded benefit cuts and other concessions from workers,” union leaders stated. “MTA management has rejected recommendations from two Presidential Emergency Boards that would end the dispute. Union members ask for nothing more than what both these neutral federal boards have already recommended.”

At the Hicksville station, the strike potential unleashed a host of complaints, mostly directed at those in charge.

“I spend over $250 a month. I have little faith that the LIRR is being managed properly,” said Plainview resident John Fischer, 37, whose been commuting to Manhattan for 14 years. “There is nothing worse than paying for fair hikes because someone is asleep at the wheel. It makes me wonder how much of my fare is going toward waste and inefficiencies.”

Fischer, a web development manager in the city, said that if LIRR workers do walk off the job, he plans on using a combination of telecommuting and carpooling to deal with the “monumental inconvenience.” Overall, Fischer said the MTA does a decent job getting thousands of commuters to the city everyday.

“I think the service is decent and the trains are on time for the most part,” he said, adding that the believes the union’s demands are reasonable. “I only believe in pay for performance. I think those terms sound reasonable only if workers are being evaluated.”