Federal lawmakers on Wednesday said they will not intervene if Long Island Rail Road workers go on strike later this month.
After failing to reach a deal with unions Tuesday, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Thomas Prendergast went to Washington to meet with Congressional representatives Wednesday.
Under the Federal Railway Labor Act, Congress has the power to stop a railroad strike, but lawmakers think the better option is to keep the dispute local, and they are now ordering the unions to present a counter-offer by Thursday.
"We want everyone at the table, and for anyone to be looking to get a silver bullet from Congress, they'd be making a big mistake. This is ultimately a state responsibility, it should be resolved within the state and we're not going to be doing anything to interfere with the negotiating process whatsoever," said Rep. Peter King of Long Island.
"We are demanding that both the MTA and the unions negotiate and get this solved quickly," said Rep. Steve Israel, whose district covers parts of Queens and Long Island.
The MTA most recently offered 17 percent raises over seven years, but asked for concessions on health care and pensions.
The unions want more.
Railroad workers are threatening to walk off the job at midnight on July 20 if a deal is not reached.
They have been working without a contract since 2010.
A walkout would affect more than 300,000 daily riders.
Lawmakers in Washington always understood that Congress was never an option. The place is so gridlocked that it's hard to imagine that the Republican-controlled House would step in and resolve a labor dispute in New York. In fact, Charles Schumer, the state's senior senator, suggested that the trip was a waste of time.
"I don't know where all of this stuff came about that someone should go to Congress," Schumer said. "You didn't need to be a Ph.D in political science to know that the House of Representatives would never help New York out of a strike situation."
Prendergast claimed he only came to Washington to prove a point to the unions.
"We wanted to send a very clear message to people. If they think Congress acting quickly after a strike to take action and order them back to work and impose a solution was something that they could pursue, the likelihood of that is exceptionally low," he said.
The unions, in a letter sent to Congress Wednesday, said they are not asking Congress to intervene. In fact, earlier this week, it was Governor Andrew Cuomo who had suggested that Congress should get involved. Now, he's changing his tune, saying, "The unions' false belief that Congress would step in to mandate a settlement was a major impediment to any real progress."
Schumer said the governor has the ability to solve the problem. It's unclear, however, if Cuomo is going to get involved as MTA officials go back to the bargaining table after a side trip to the nation's capital.
The MTA has created a special website for the possible strike at web.mta.info/LIRRStrikePlan.