While appearing at an event upstate yesterday that had little to do with mass transit, Governor Cuomo fielded a couple of questions about the stalled labor talks that threaten to give New York its first Long Island Rail Road strike in 20 years.
"We've had strikes before, right? And we survived, Cuomo said. "And we've had disasters and we know what that's like. Hurricane Sandy was a disaster, we've gone through other disasters. This is not a disaster. A real pain, maybe but not a disaster."
Not being able to get to work certainly isn't like seeing your house buried under six feet of water but a LIRR strike could cost New York $50 million a day in lost economic activity, according to State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli – who said it would be "another devastating blow to a region that is still struggling to recover from Superstorm Sandy and the recession."
Not known for being a shy and retiring type, Cuomo may be playing labor possum as the Saturday midnight deadline approaches. It's hard to imagine that the governor won't do everything he can to avoid a walkout when he's less than four months away from Election Day and has been doing everything he can to rack up his support on Long Island – including holding the state Democratic convention there.
The differences between the two sides seem relatively small with one sticking point being whether a 17 percent raise comes over six or seven years. And in this day and age, is it unreasonable to ask workers to pay for some amount of their health care?
Because of the impending election, perhaps the unions think they have the governor by the short hairs and don't want to budge. If that's the case, prepare for a messy week on Long Island. And the mess will carry over into Queens where roughly 100,000 city commuters rely on the trains to get to work as well.
Cuomo may want to look stop looking coy and demand that labor talks be held around the clock. After all, doesn't he (sort of) run the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the LIRR? And maybe Mayor de Blasio should think hard about postponing that Italian vacation.
And perhaps realizing that he was sounding a little too decaf, the governor this morning issued a statement that was much stronger from his remarks yesterday:
"The Long Island Rail Road is a critical transportation system for Long Island and New York City. We must do everything we can to prevent Long Islanders from being held hostage by a strike that would damage the regional economy and be highly disruptive for commuters. Both the MTA and the LIRR unions need to put the interests of New Yorkers first by returning to the table today and working continuously to avoid a strike."