Last Wednesday, Gov. Cuomo sent a stern warning about the looming LIRR strike: “A strike is just not an option and would be a terrible failure by both the unions and the MTA.” But a strike is an option, and a perfectly credible one, as the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority's planning shows. There's no excuse for Cuomo to cave to the unions to avoid a strike at all costs.
Cuomo's dark words may have sounded equally aimed at the bosses and the unions — but they were really pointed at the MTA. The union leaders don't work for Cuomo, so why should they care if he thinks they have failed?
MTA chief Tom Prendergast does work for Cuomo. He'd be pluckier than most political appointees if he were to go ahead and do what his boss expressly just told him not to do: take a strike.
But that's exactly what Prendergast was planning last Friday. “We're ready to face a strike if it comes to that,” he told reporters.
He and his colleagues went out of their way to explain repeatedly how much better, in fact, New York could handle a strike compared to the last time the LIRR struck, in 1994 under Gov. Mario Cuomo.
Thanks to the response after many disasters, plus the rise of the Internet, today we're better equipped to handle a crisis, weather-related or man-made.
The easiest thing is for folks to work from home if they can — and 18,000 people have already agreed to do that.
Then, too, Prendergast said the MTA has secured 350 school buses (sigh, probably not air-conditioned) to transport 15,000 people from six Long Island stations to subway stations in Queens. That takes care of 15,000 people, “twice as many as in 1994,” Prendergast said.
Another 7,000 could park at Aqueduct or Citi Field and take the A train or the No. 7.
And the HOV-lane requirement on the LIE will be bumped up to three people from two, encouraging people to pick up passengers before their entrance ramps.
Yes, all that is only 14 percent or so of the LIRR's daily ridership.
But during a long strike, the MTA could do more of this stuff. If 350 buses can move 15,000 people, 700 buses could move 30,000 people. More people could telecommute.
The state could tighten its carpool requirements, and people could find passengers and drivers via the state's 511NY Rideshare service, which helped hospital workers get around after Sandy, and through websites that help carpools form.
No, it wouldn't be great. But it would be a whole lot better than 20 years ago. “When the Long Island Rail Road union last went on strike . . . there were very limited options,” Prendergast said. “The MTA today has a far stronger . . . plan. We're better prepared than we were in 1994.”
This all takes away any excuse Cuomo might have to make the MTA give an inch to the unions.
The MTA, remember, has already offered enough. It's offering 18.4 percent raises over seven years — and it's entirely given up on work-rule changes.
Yes, it wants new workers to pay 4 percent of their own health-care costs (and existing workers to pay half that). But the MTA really can't give up on that stuff — especially since it can't afford what it's already offered.
The LIRR's labor costs are already 30.1 percent higher than Metro-North's, the other commuter railroad, even though Metro-North does five more runs daily.
That's why the LIRR requires bigger tax subsidies than the subways or Metro-North do. Riders cover 59 percent of subway costs, and 60 percent of Metro-North costs. They cover only 46 percent of LIRR costs.
Guess who makes up the rest — about $734 million a year? Cuomo's taxpayers.
In fact, the MTA should take advantage of any strike to cram down work-rule changes as the price for workers to be allowed back on the job.
Cuomo will be tempted to prod the MTA into giving away the store, though — so that he can look like a fearless leader in avoiding a strike.
Twenty years ago, his father caved in after a weekend strike — so why not skip it altogether?
Well, “it's a drastically different situation today, 20 years later,” on the disaster-planning side, said Prendergast.
Cuomo could show that he's drastically different, too. Don't count on it, though.
Original Source: http://nypost.com/2014/07/13/lirr-strike-threat-cuomo-set-to-cave/