How 'Federal' is the Long Island Railroad Labor Dispute?

One quirk of the federal labor laws places the Long Island Railroad under federal cognizance, and outside the ambit of New York's public employees' Fair Employment Act – the so-called "Taylor Law," which, among other things, prohibits New York's public employees and their unions from going on strike

The strike now threatened by the LIRR's unions would, by all calculations, cripple the economy, transportation, and social interactions of Long Island.  New York City proper would also take a significant hit.

As of this writing, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has let it be known that the labor impasse is a federal issue, and not one in which he cares to intervene (though his recent pronouncements may well open the door for some reconsideration on his part).

Notwithstanding the "federal" status of the labor contract negotiations, Andy Cuomo's intervention into the current LIRR situation would be most appropriate.  The LIRR's management is held in low esteem by the public for its questionable competence in moving commuters, and, for their part, the unions were morally if not criminally complicit in a recent disability pension fraud scheme.  Cuomo, if he so chooses, can invoke his office to provide the leadership to avert a strike.

In such regard, two precedents from the history books are noted.

Twenty years ago, in 1994, when Andy Cuomo's father Mario sat in the executive chamber in Albany, the elder Cuomo did proactively intervene to avert a LIRR strike.

And forty years ago, Milton J. Shapp, a liberal Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, personally intervened to end a nationwide strike of independent truckers.

It is clear that the "federal" status of the LIRR labor management situation need not prevent the governor of the State of New York from playing an active role in the resolution of the dispute.

Given his unabashed political dreams, Andrew Cuomo would be taking on substantial risk by insinuating himself into the labor dispute and failing to prevent a LIRR shutdown.  But Cuomo also runs the risk of being tagged as ineffective if he ultimately declines to step into the arena and the labor walkout becomes a reality.

With less than two weeks to go until the strike deadline, the Governor may yet show up at the negotiating table.

Kenneth H. Ryesky is an attorney who teaches at Queens College CUNY.  He resides on Long Island.

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