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Congress seen unlikely to block threatened New York transit strike

By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Congress will likely not intervene to prevent a threatened strike this month that would shut down the Long Island Rail Road, the country's largest commuter rail system, a U.S. representative from New York said on Wednesday.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and a coalition of eight unions representing LIRR workers have been negotiating for four years to try to reach a contract deal.

The winding down of a cooling-off period in the talks allows the 5,400 unionized workers to walk off the job on July 20, which would leave some 300,000 daily commuters without train service.

The MTA's chief executive, Thomas Prendergast, asked the region's lawmakers whether Congress would move to block a walkout.

"We made it clear that this is up to the state to resolve," said Republican Representative Peter King, who represents a Long Island district served by the railroad.

King added, however, that the local delegation would consider taking action if a strike occurred.

Congress has several options to address the possible strike.

It could allow the strike to proceed and then pass a resolution ending it and implement a settlement, or require mediation or arbitration. Congress could also vote to extend the cooling-off period, or do nothing.

The MTA launched a communications blitz on Wednesday to alert riders of possible service disruptions. In newspaper ads and on its website, the MTA told LIRR passengers to plan to work from home or carpool.

There will be a limited number of buses available, although they would not be able to accommodate all of LIRR's daily riders, the agency said.

"Expect roadways to be extremely congested and usual commute times to be significantly longer," the MTA said.

In its latest proposal, the MTA offered a 17 percent wage increase over seven years with higher contributions for medical insurance and pensions made by future employees, both sides said.

The unions have asked for a wage hike of 17 percent over six years without such concessions for future employees.

The union coalition was not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Eric Beech and Peter Cooney)

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