NJ Transit strike could shut down trains in one month
In just over a month, an NJ Transit strike could threaten to shut down the service's trains.
The New Jersey Transit Rail Coalition, which represents the 11 NJ Transit employee unions in a newsletter issued Friday, warned its members to "prepare yourself economically" and said that "every union on New Jersey Transit will strike if no agreement is reached" at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, March 13.
It said negotiations on contract issues took place Wednesday, but "no progress was made."
"The company is likely to simultaneously announce a lock-out. Once a strike begins, no one knows how long it will last," the company wrote. "If you do not want to be paying the extreme insurance contributions that NJT is demanding, you must be prepared to strike for as long as it takes for NJT to come to its senses."
Picket captains are being chosen now, according to the newsletter, which said "every location" will be picketed.
The coalition does not expect President Barack Obama or Congress to step in right away to end a strike, according to the newsletter.
A Presidential Emergency Board created to mediate contract talks between management and the union issued a ruling in January that recommended NJ Transit give workers an 18 percent raise over two years, with nominal increases for medical coverage, NorthJersey.com reported. NJ Transit said that deal is "not affordable" and would bring a fare increase of 30 percent, according to the report.
The railroad and its unions, which have worked without a contract since 2011, will end a 60-day cooling off period on March 12 at which point the unions would be allowed to strike or be locked out by NJ Transit, leading to a possible shutdown of the transit agency, according to the emergency board. Management could also step in and run the trains.
NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder earlier said that both sides met on Wednesday to try and reach an agreement.
"NJ Transit remains fully committed to a fair and affordable solution to these contract talks with the goal of protecting our customers and taxpayers. To that end, negotiations held (Wednesday) were substantive," she said.
“The last thing we want is a strike. We have gone five years without a contract. Our settlement proposal is modest and fair. All we are asking is what has been recommended by two expert neutral panels," the NJT Rail Labor Coalition said in a statement. "Congress changed the Railway Labor Act to try to prevent commuter work stoppages by having a second (Presidential Emergency Board) recommend the most reasonable offer, with penalties imposed on the side that doesn’t accept the recommendation. That has almost always led to a settlement. Yet now NJT refuses. We call upon NJT to end this dispute without disruption to the riding public.”
NJ Transit's interim executive director, Dennis Martin, acknowledged the service is preparing for a possible strike.
“NJ Transit is actively involved in developing a robust alternative service plan in the event the unions call a strike,” Martin said in a statement sent to New Jersey 101.5 Saturday morning. “We are working with our regional partners, including NJDOT, to provide as much service as possible to our customers.”
NJ Transit operates a 711 trains and 45 light rail vehicles on 12 rail lines statewide.