Negotiations move forward as NY rail strike looms

FRANK ELTMAN and RACHELLE BLIDNER
July 17, 2014
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A conductor punches tickets aboard the Long Island Rail Road, in the Queens borough of New York, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. Negotiations aimed at avoiding a walkout at the nation's largest commuter railroad resumed Wednesday after Gov. Andrew Cuomo prodded both sides to find an agreement that would keep 300,000 daily riders from being forced to find alternate ways of getting in and out of New York City. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has become directly involved in talks to avoid a weekend strike at the nation's largest commuter railroad, with governor saying Thursday that "time is very short" to resolve the contract dispute.

Talks on Wednesday between Long Island Rail Road unions and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority proceeded until late into the night and will resume Thursday morning at the governor's Manhattan office, Cuomo said.

Cuomo has said everything must be done to prevent the railroad's 300,000 daily riders "from being held hostage" by a strike, set for 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

The railroad's 5,400 unionized workers have been without a contract since 2010.

"Time is very short," Cuomo said in a statement Thursday. "We are less than 48 hours from the point at which the railroad would commence closing procedures. I want to make sure I have done everything I can possibly do to avert a strike."

The talks resumed Wednesday after two days of increased tension and bleak prospects for resolution stemming from a railroad proposal to make future employees contribute to their to health and pension plans.

President Barack Obama appointed two emergency boards to help resolve the dispute, but the MTA rejected both nonbinding recommendations. The emergency board's last proposal called for a 17 percent raise over six years while leaving work rules and pensions alone.

The MTA offered a 17 percent wage increase over seven years but also wants pension and health care concessions, which both sides agree is the sticking point holding up an agreement.

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Blidner reported from New York. Associated Press writers Michael R. Sisak in New York and Michael Hill and David Klepper in Albany contributed to this report.