MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — The chief negotiator for the unions at the nation's largest commuter railroad emerged from the restart of talks Wednesday citing progress and vowing to continue working toward a deal that avoids a strike set for 12:01 a.m. Sunday.
"We're not leaving until we can get this done," Anthony Simon said outside the Manhattan law office where representatives from the unions and the Long Island Rail Road talked for about five hours Wednesday.
They will continue face-to-face negotiations Thursday morning, Simon said, after union officials and representatives from the railroad's parent agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, take time apart for "crunching numbers."
MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg declined to characterize the talks but said the agency remained committed to negotiating. He said the sides were maintaining informal contact through telephone and teleconference from their respective quarters but would not be able to finalize a resolution until Thursday at the earliest.
"It's a good sign that they're at the table talking," Lisberg said after about two hours of talks. "The fact that they're both in the room shows that both sides are doing more than they did yesterday."
The unions and the MTA resumed talks at the urging of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who issued a sharply worded statement amid a two-day impasse over whether future railroad employees would be forced to contribute to their health and pension plans.
Everything must be done to prevent the railroad's 300,000 daily riders "from being held hostage by a strike that would damage the regional economy and be highly disruptive for commuters," Cuomo said.
Simon credited Cuomo, who had been reluctant to insert himself into the dispute, with prodding the MTA back to the bargaining table after talks broke down and the union started telling members and riders to prepare for a strike that would create a commuting nightmare in and around the nation's largest city.
"If the governor of the state of New York tells you to come to the table, you come to the table," Simon said. "But we as the labor leaders never wanted to leave the table."