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LIRR strike countdown

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Unions negotiating with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said talks aimed at avoiding a walkout at the nation's largest commuter railroad have collapsed.

Anthony Simon, the workers' chief negotiator, said Monday afternoon that the eight Long Island Rail Road unions are now proceeding with strike plans.

The MTA "insist[s] the unions agree to a contract worth less than the value of the compromise recommendations of two Presidential Emergency Boards," Simon said in a statement. "The MTA has failed miserably in proving to anyone that their finances are in a place where they cannot afford this contract and prevent a strike."

MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast said the railroad plans to scale down service ahead the possible strike. He said that a "big gulf" exists between the two sides. "We've done giving, they're done taking," he said. He said the unions have not moved at all and have not offered anything that generates savings for the MTA.

"A strike is very painful," Prendergast said. "And it's a tool used to attract attention to an issue." When asked about the influences of outside groups that may have their own political agendas, Prendergast said: "The needs of New York take precedence over [anyone's else's]," adding that the local unions and the MTA need to work out what is best for New York.

The unions representing 5,400 workers have said they intend to strike unless an agreement is reached by July 20. Simon said it appears a strike is likely.

Some of the sticking points are how much LIRR workers will be contributing to pension and health benefits. Also, they are concerned about how long it will take them to reach top pay.

Unions have been working without a contract since 2010. President Barack Obama appointed two emergency boards to help resolve the dispute, but the railroad's parent organization rejected both non-binding recommendations, and the unions voted to authorize a strike.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated previously that he would not intervene in the dispute.

MTA and New York City have contingency plans in place in the event of a strike. Shuttle buses, free subway transfers and park-and-ride parking lots are among the contingencies.

Shuttle buses will help carry some LIRR customers to subway stations in Queens. They also are opening parking lots at Citi Field and Aqueduct racetrack. Commuters can catch subways to Manhattan from those lots in Queens.

Officials also are urging employees to telecommute if possible.

Prendergast said at this time, neither the MTA nor the unions have committed to restarting contract talks.

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