Unions for New York’s subways and buses are subject to the Taylor Law, which prohibits the state’s public employees from striking. The LIRR, however, does not have to comply with said law as it is protected by the federal Railway Labor Act. The RLA allows strikes over major disputes once the union has exhausted the law’s negotiation and mediation procedures.
The protections granted by the RLA, Gelinas explained, were designed for when workers for private railroads were treated poorly. “These are publicly subsidized commuter railroads,” she said. “We ought to be changing the federal labor acts so that the state can control this.”
In so far as he has the legal power to prevent a strike, New York governor Andrew Cuomo has a difficult role in the ordeal. He stated publicly earlier this week that “a strike is just not an option and would be a terrible failure by both the unions and the MTA.”
Gelinas thinks that this statement puts the MTA in a “very bad position.” Even though it is technically an independent authority, she says that the MTA will not allow a strike if it’s very clear that Cuomo does not want one, which is clearly the case. Since the unions “haven’t had a compromising posture,” she said, the MTA may have to cave in to their demands in order to prevent a strike.
Smith gave his own perspective on the governor’s position. “Cuomo just seems to want the MTA to resolve its problems quietly, damn the fiscal consequences, and leave him alone,” he said.
The governor sent Prendergast to Washington on Wednesday to see if Congress would become involved in the negotiation process. But Congress told Prendergast that they would not become involved in what they consider should be a state matter.
“We are demanding that both the MTA and the unions negotiate and get this solved quickly,” Representative Steve Israel (D., N.Y.) said.
Cuomo said in an emailed statement that he sent Prendergast in order to prove to the unions that Congress would not assist them.
“The unions’ false belief that Congress would step in to mandate a settlement was a major impediment to any real progress,” he said. “It is now clear that the only path to resolution is at the bargaining table.”
If the situation does result in a strike, the MTA will need an emergency option for its commuters. Its website already is publicizing the potential strike, warning commuters to expect “roadways to be extremely congested and usual commute times to be significantly longer.” It lists six alternative options, including taking vacation time, working from home, and staying with family in the city.
“The public doesn’t pay a lot of attention until it happens,” Gelinas said. If the strike does indeed occur, the public will not see the unions and the MTA as separate forces opposed to one another, but as “one corrupt, incompetent entity.” “They’ll end up blaming the MTA and the governor.”
—Molly Wharton is an intern at National Review.