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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