October 20, 2014

PEB 245: ‘LIRR unions’ offer most reasonable’

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Presidential Emergency Board 245 determined May 20 that “the Unions’ final offer is the most reasonable” in the four-year-old bargaining dispute between the International Association of Sheet, Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers and its allied unions and the Long Island Rail Road.

The PEB report sets in motion a final 60-day cooling off period. If no agreement is reached during that time, SMART and the other unions can strike on July 19 under provisions of the Railway Labor Act.

Under the RLA’s special 9A provisions for disputes involving commuter railroads, if the parties do not reach agreement after a first PEB issues its recommendations, a second PEB is convened to decide which side’s final offer is the most reasonable.

On Dec. 21, 2013, PEB 244 recommended a six-year contract with 17.9 percent in compounded wage increases. The board also recommended that employees begin paying health insurance premiums that reduced the net value of the proposed contract to 2.5 percent per year. The board rejected Long Island Rail Road’s proposal for sweeping pension, work rule, and other concessions.

In its report, the board notes that “the lack of notice and bargaining on substantial issues in the Carrier’s final offer is of significant concern … The Unions’ final offer, on the other hand, represents a reasonable balance addressing the priorities of both parties … It is noteworthy that the Unions’ assertion that real wage increases for LIRR employees, absent inflation, have not increased at all since 1991, was not challenged by the Carrier.”

“A strong union requires strong members,” said SMART General President Joseph Nigro. “The courage and fortitude these members exhibited shows that there is nothing stronger than the solidarity that comes when working families are united. They are proof of that.

“SMART will provide all the resources needed to ensure an agreement worthy of ratification by these members is produced. They have fought for and deserve every advance they make and will make in the future.”

“Our members on LIRR, led by General Chairperson Anthony Simon, are to be commended for their resolve in seeking the fair and equitable agreement to which they are entitled,” said SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich. “From the very beginning, SMART advised all concerned that management’s offer of a substandard contract was unacceptable and that we would not hold back in our efforts to obtain a just agreement.

“Throughout negotiations and mediation, our position was firm and consistent and management refused to listen. Now that our position is validated by both Presidential Emergency Board 244 and again with PEB 245, it is time for this issue to be resolved. We will not rest until our members receive the agreement that they deserve.”

SMART, along with its coalition partners Transportation Communications Union, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers-Service Employees International Union, submitted the recommendations of the first board to PEB 245 as its final offer.

MTA, which conducted the bargaining for Long Island Rail Road, rejected PEB 244’s recommendations as a basis for settlement. Instead, MTA proposed as its final offer what it claimed was equivalent value to a deal it reached on April 17, 2014, four days before PEB 245 hearings began, with Transport Workers Union Local 100 representing 35,000 New York City Transit Authority workers. The offer was for 11 percent in wage increases over six years, with a 2 percent employee contribution to health insurance, major pension concessions, and a new, reduced-rate progression for new employees.

PEB 245 decisively ruled for the unions. The three-member panel, comprised of renowned arbitrators Joshua Javits, David Vaughn and Elizabeth Wesman, wrote, “The Unions’ final offer … represents a reasonable balance addressing the priorities of both parties.”

In rejecting MTA’s final offer, the board found that there were no consistencies with any comparisons made by the MTA, and the lack of detail to any comparables did not prove that their final offer was reasonable. As PEB 244 noted, state employee agreements have virtually never constituted valid comparators or patterns for commuter railroads. The labor markets, skills, history, and operations are completely different.

SMART Transportation Division Alternate Vice President and General Chairperson Anthony Simon, spokesman for the SMART, TCU, IAM and NCFO-SEIU coalition, called upon MTA “to accept reality and sign the PEB-recommended contract immediately.”

“Our members and all the hard working men and women on the Long Island Rail Road have waited long enough. We sincerely hope MTA will not stick to its twice-rejected position. We are fully prepared to strike on July 19 if MTA continues to stonewall the process,” Simon said.

To read the complete report of PEB 245, click here.