Long Island Rail Road riders are breathing a sigh of relief as Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday afternoon that a tentative contract deal was reached with union and Metropolitan Transportation Authority leadership to prevent a strike this weekend.
Under the deal, existing LIRR employees will receive 17 percent raises over the next six-and-a-half years and, for the first time, all employees will contribute to their health insurance costs.
New hires will have different wage progressions and pension plan contributions.
The contract deal will also have no impact on MTA fares.
"This is a compromise by both parties after four long years. Compromise, by definition, means that neither side gets everything that they wanted to get," Cuomo said. "We wanted fair compensation for valued employees, and we wanted to make sure the MTA didn't raise fares."
MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast called it a "fair and reasonable contract" as it ends a four-year labor dispute.
"We keep our mind on what is most important: the needs of the customer and meeting our own indivisible responsibilities," Prendargast said. "And in order to do that, it required a compromise on the part of all parties."
Anthony Simon, general chairman of the United Transportation Union, thanked Cuomo for getting involved and called him a "no-nonsense leader."
"This definitely is a fair contract. It is a compromise by all parties that we continue down the road of a safe and reliable system," Simon added.
Officials said it's a fit for the MTA's often-shaky finances.
"We're keeping fare increases to the cost of the rate of inflation," Prendergast said. "This deal puts no additional pressures on the fares."
The announcement was first made over Twitter by a union governing electrical workers saying that the strike was over.
A union representing sheet metal and rail road workers also posted on their website that the work stoppage was called off.
It comes as Cuomo called representatives from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and union reps to his office Thursday morning to try to work out a new contract.
The two sides got back to the bargaining table under pressure from the governor.
"Every one of us in this room always believed that we could get to a deal and protect the riding public," Simon said. "It was a long road. It was a tough road."
A strike would have taken effect at 12:01 a.m. Sunday and could have impacted the commutes of roughly 300,000 daily riders.
Commuters at Penn Station were thrilled to hear the news Thursday afternoon.
"Oh good, love it!" said one commuter.
A strike would have meant carpooling, hitching a ride or working from home for LIRR commuters. Some even said they would have had to miss work.
"It would have been terrible for work," said another commuter. "It would have been a major hiccup, especially here for all the different businesses that are here at One Penn. They depend on the commuters to make money."
Many commuters at Jamaica Station, a LIRR stop and major subway access point, were also ecstatic to hear news of the agreement. But others said it ruined their plans.
"I was going to live with my great aunt in Manhattan, so I'm actually kind of disappointed that the strike got averted," said one commuter.
Some cab drivers were also sad to hear the news because it means they can't cash in on more fares during the strike.
"It's bad news for us right now, so we're trying the best we can to keep our customers and pay our bill," said a driver.
Since Cuomo first intervened in negotiations on Wednesday, union leaders had expressed optimism about reaching a deal and averting a strike.
The tentative agreement must still be approved by the LIRR unions' executive boards and ratified by its members. It also needs approval from the MTA board.
LIRR Contract Deal Reached (Full Press Conference)
TWC News: LIRR Strike Averted as MTA, Unions Agree to Deal
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Governor Andrew Cuomo joins MTA and LIRR union leadership to announce details of the labor deal on Thursday, July 17, 2014. [20 minutes]