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MTA, LIRR Unions to Return to Table Thursday

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Officials from the MTA and the unions for Long Island Rail Road workers are continuing to negotiate around the clock via phone and video conferencing before they return to the table to talk face to face at 10 a.m. Thursday. NY1's Jose Martinez filed the following report.

Keep those trains running and those talks going. There's still no deal in the labor standoff between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Long Island Rail Road unions, but they're not done talking yet.

"We're having communications. That brings us closer," said Anthony Simon, general chairman of the United Transportation Union. "Communication in a room brings us closer."

Credit may be due to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who one day after downplaying the impact of a strike, changed course and sternly warned both sides that a walkout on the country's busiest commuter railroad would hold riders hostage. He ordered them back to the table.

"Obviously, we all know 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."

Talks splintered Monday, putting the LIRR riders from Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan on the brink of the railroad's first strike in 20 years.

"If the LIRR went down, it would really be a difficult situation, 130,000 commuters, and the MTA and LIRR unions both would have failed in my opinion if it came to that," Cuomo said.

Now, there may be some hope as the 12:01 a.m. Sunday strike deadline looms.

The two sides have been at odds over the MTA's most recent contract offer, one which offered workers 17 percent pay raises across seven years while having them contribute to health care costs for the first time.

On Monday, the unions made a counter just before talks fell apart.

"I'm not going to get into any details, who presented what, who was talking for how long," Lisberg said.

While MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast stepped out of the talks at the halfway point on Thursday, his spokesman said it's only because he's got to get back to his other duties.

"The unions have said that they don't expect the chairman of the MTA to be at the table the whole time. Tom appreciates that," Lisberg said. "Whenever his presence will be helpful, he'll be here."

That could come as soon as Thursday morning, when the two sides resume talks with the threat of a strike drawing ever closer.

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