Union Negotiator: close to averting NY rail strike

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Union Negotiator: close to averting NY rail strike
A woman passes track entrances at the Jamaica station of the Long Island Rail Road, in the Queens borough of New York, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Ticket clerk Norberto Rivera, left, waits for customers at the Jamaica station of the Long Island Rail Road, in the Queens borough of New York, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. Negotiations aimed at avoiding a walkout at the nation's largest commuter railroad resumed Wednesday after Gov. Andrew Cuomo prodded both sides to find an agreement that would keep 300,000 daily riders from being forced to find alternate ways of getting in and out of New York City. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
A conductor punches tickets aboard the Long Island Rail Road, in the Queens borough of New York, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. Negotiations aimed at avoiding a walkout at the nation's largest commuter railroad resumed Wednesday after Gov. Andrew Cuomo prodded both sides to find an agreement that would keep 300,000 daily riders from being forced to find alternate ways of getting in and out of New York City. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
A conductor checks the platform from his train at the Jamaica station of the Long Island Rail Road, in the Queens borough of New York, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. Negotiations aimed at avoiding a walkout at the nation's largest commuter railroad resumed Wednesday after Gov. Andrew Cuomo prodded both sides to find an agreement that would keep 300,000 daily riders from being forced to find alternate ways of getting in and out of New York City. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Anthony Simon, left, lead union negotiator for Long Island Rail Road Union, and union representative Dean Devita, speak during a news conference Wednesday, July 16, 2014, in New York. Shortly after Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an appeal Wednesday for the sides to resume talking, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the Long Island Rail Road, invited union negotiators to resume talks and union officials accepted. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Long Island Rail Road trains queue for deployment at Jamaica station, in the Queens borough of New York, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. Negotiations aimed at avoiding a walkout at the nation's largest commuter railroad resumed Wednesday after Gov. Andrew Cuomo prodded both sides to find an agreement that would keep 300,000 daily riders from being forced to find alternate ways of getting in and out of New York City. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
A man retrieves his ticket from a Long Island Rail Road vending machine, in New York's Penn Station, Tuesday, July 15, 2014. Pessimism grew about the prospects of a strike at the nation's largest commuter railroad this weekend after union negotiators said Monday that talks had collapsed amid a dispute over whether future Long Island Rail Road employees should be required to contribute to their health insurance and pensions. A walkout, which the unions said they were planning at 12:01 a.m. next Sunday, would affect 300,000 daily riders who travel in and out of New York City from Long Island.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Passengers board a Long Island Railroad train at the Woodside stop in the Queens borough of New York, Tuesday, July 15, 2014. Union negotiators said Monday that weekend talks had collapsed amid a dispute over whether future Long Island Rail Road employees should be required to contribute to their health insurance and pensions. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
A woman passes a Long Island Rail Road map in New York's Penn Station, Tuesday, July 15, 2014. Pessimism grew about the prospects of a strike at the nation's largest commuter railroad this weekend after union negotiators said Monday that talks had collapsed amid a dispute over whether future Long Island Rail Road employees should be required to contribute to their health insurance and pensions. A walkout, which the unions said they were planning at 12:01 a.m. next Sunday, would affect 300,000 daily riders who travel in and out of New York City from Long Island.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
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By FRANK ELTMAN and RACHELLE BLIDNER

NEW YORK (AP) - The chief negotiator for Long Island Rail Road unions said Thursday they were "very, very close" to averting a weekend strike at the nation's largest commuter railroad after Gov. Andrew Cuomo became directly involved in the talks.

Anthony Simon spoke before heading into discussions with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority at Cuomo's Manhattan office.

"We think we can get a deal done," said Simon. Asked about the potential for a strike, he said they were "very, very close to not having one." However, he also cautioned that they were "not there yet."

Cuomo said Thursday morning that "time is very short" to resolve the contract dispute before the strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

"We are less than 48 hours from the point at which the railroad would commence closing procedures," Cuomo said. "I want to make sure I have done everything I can possibly do to avert a strike."

Cuomo has said everything must be done to prevent the railroad's 300,000 daily riders "from being held hostage" by a strike.

MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast declined to comment as he entered the talks Thursday morning.

The railroad's 5,400 unionized workers have been without a contract since 2010.

The talks resumed Wednesday and went late into the night after two days of increased tension and bleak prospects for resolution stemming from a railroad proposal to make future employees contribute to their to health and pension plans.

President Barack Obama appointed two emergency boards to help resolve the dispute, in December 2013 and May of this year, but the MTA rejected both nonbinding recommendations. The emergency board's last proposal called for a 17 percent raise over six years while leaving work rules and pensions alone.

The MTA offered a 17 percent wage increase over seven years but also wants pension and health care concessions, which both sides agree is the sticking point holding up an agreement.

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