NEW YORK (AP) — After four years of negotiations — and weeks of fretting by 300,000 daily riders about a possible strike — unions and management at the nation's largest commuter railroad reached a tentative contract agreement Thursday.
The deal announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who personally got involved in the final hours of the negotiations, gives Long Island Rail Road workers a 17 percent pay raise over six and a half years but requires them to contribute to their health care costs for the first time.
Cuomo, who is running for a second term in November, hailed the deal as a compromise that protects workers and riders because it calls for no additional fare hikes.
"There was a high degree of agita," the governor said of nervousness over the negotiations. "The good news is there could have been a lot more agita next week" if there had been a strike.
Eight unions representing 5,400 Long Island Rail Road workers had threatened to walk off the job at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. The workers had been seeking a new deal since 2010.
Commuters at Penn Station in Manhattan expressed relief that they would not have to seek transportation alternatives.
"I was really concerned," said Sibel Aras of Port Washington. "It's really good news. I'm happy for them. They deserve it."
Manhattan attorney Douglas Bartner said he was pleased Cuomo stepped in.
"His taking last minute efforts to avert what could be a crisis is good, whatever it takes," Bartner said. "It got done. I hope the terms are fair to employees."
According to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the LIRR's parent organization, the typical salary for a Long Island Rail Road worker is $65,000, and with overtime annual earnings average $85,000. A round-trip peak ticket from central Nassau County to Manhattan currently costs $25 a day; an unlimited trip monthly ticket is $276.
"Both sides have compromised to reach an agreement that gives our employees the raises they deserve while also providing for the MTA's long-term financial stability," said Thomas Prendergast, the MTA chairman.
Chief union negotiator Anthony Simon said his membership was reluctant to strike, but a tough stance was necessary in order to get an agreement.
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