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New York transit contract talks stalled as strike date approaches

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New York City railway transit workers from the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) still do not have a contract yet and the date of the planned strike looms near. Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) workers are hoping for a pay raise and adequate medical care for all workers. Even though the MTA offered workers a seventeen percent raise, the MTA workers have not accepted the offer because under the agreement, MTA workers would be required to pay their own health benefits, according to CBS New York on Tuesday. LIRR workers do not pay for their own medical care currently.

According to MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast, who is going to Capitol Hill in Washington to ascertain the intentions of members of Congress, lawmakers have three options available to them: 1) Extend the deadline for settling the agreement, 2) Allow the strike to occur and passing a resolution that curtails the strike after a period of time, or 3) Taking no action whatsoever. However, according to Anthony Simon of the United Transportation Union, Pendergast's trip is not necessary because MTA workers are not looking to Congress to solve its problems. Simon stated:

“We are not looking for congressional intervention; we are looking for a reasonable offer. We didn’t see the MTA chairman today. We hope the MTA chairman comes to the next meeting. We are available 24/7. We are ready. We will sleep here. And the MTA is not willing to budge off of their offer.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D,Ny) issued a statement on Tuesday to the effect that he is refusing to intervene in the dispute because it is federal matter since railroads come under federal jurisdiction. Cuomo said that more than likely the transit worker issue needs to be solved by Congress. Christopher Natale, an LIRR union representative, stated that Cuomo's statement has left him less than optimistic about the chances of resolving the dispute. Natale stated:

“I’m not very optimistic at this point, to be honest with you, especially after the governor’s statement this morning.”

As with anything that involves Congress, the transit talk stalemate has become political. According to observers, including negotiators on both sides of the issue, the outcome of the talks may depend on whether or not House Speaker John Boehner is willing to intervene in the matter and help Governor Cuomo, a Democratic Governor, during an election year.

Considering the pernicious stalemate that has loomed between Congress and the White House for the past two years, it is doubtful that Boehner will intervene. The stalemate is likely to continue indefinitely as morale among workers disintegrates. Consequently, the possibility of a strike is appearing more and more likely.

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