"The Unions' final offer is the most reasonable." These are the closing words of Presidential Emergency Board 245. PEB 245 was the LIRR effort at a do-over.
This outcome should be no surprise since the unions accepted wholly the recommendations of PEB 244 while the LIRR came to PEB 245 with an approach that prompted the new board to state, "The lack of notice and bargaining on substantial issues in the Carrier's final offer is of significant concern."
Translated, this means the railroad tried to pull a fast one, throwing out four years of efforts and inserting new issues and terms into the negotiations.
The background on the PEB 244:
The current dispute started on May 28, 2010, almost four years ago. For over three years the unions attempted mediation with the LIRR through the National Mediation Board. Unsuccessful, both sides rejected arbitration. As a result, self-help would have become the right of the unions as of November 22, 2013.
The LIRR asked President Obama to intervene and establish an Emergency Board to investigate and issue a report with recommendations. PEB 244 was born, and both sides hire labor, legal and financial experts. These experts made verbal and written presentations to the 244 Board. On December 21, 2013 the Board issued its Report and Recommendations. The Unions accepted those recommendations. The LIRR rejected the recommendations it had asked for. The didn't just reject a portion, but all of the report.
So the LIRR asked for PEB 245.
Different Board members hearing the arguments. Again, at a considerable expense to American taxpayers, LIRR forced a presentation to a neutral body. The unions even conceded some ground beyond the original board recommendation. They allowed for a health care contribution percentage higher than that recommended by the board or asked for by the LIRR.
The unions' final offer adopts in their entirety the terms recommended in the prior Emergency Board 244: average annual wage increases of 2.83% for 6 years; average monthly contribution of $152.02 for health care insurance (covering 10% of the total premium).
The PEB 245 report also confirmed what the Unions have been saying for years, stating:
"The Unions' assertion that real wage increases for LIRR employees, absent inflation, have not increased at all since 1991, was not challenged by the Carrier."
Did you catch that? The railroad agrees that real wages have not increased in 23 years. The board noted,
"The Unions' final offer . . . represents a reasonable balance addressing the priorities of both parties."
The wage increases recommended by the original PEB 244, and accepted by the Unions, were " at the "low" end of the averages of those agreed upon at SEPTA, Chicago Metra, MBCR, Amtrak and the freight railroads".
The railroad pushed very hard, both to the board and in the press, to say all it wanted was what the TWU Local 100 agreement represented. But the board addressed that too, finding, "MTA's final offer follows the form but not the substance of the deal it entered into with the Local 100."
The board warned the MTA about LIRR strike saying, "Any shutdown of the Carrier would damage both parties and, more importantly, create havoc with the New York metropolitan area transportation system."
So now the Railway Labor Act starts a final 60 day clock ticking. 60 days after issuance of the report, i.e. July 19, 2014, the parties may use self-help -- union strike, lockout or unilateral implementation.
It will be because the LIRR asked for help, twice, and didn't like what it was told, twice. It will be because they care not one whit about wasting taxpayer money (the Board members, PEB 244 & 245, were paid approximately $4,000 per day each, plus expenses from federal tax dollars), if in the end they get what they wanted. If that happens, it will only be because the MTA and LIRR want a worker strike summer 2014. There is no other logical explanation.