NJ Transit: No agreement, shutdown prep could start Friday

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A deal between rail worker unions and New Jersey Transit remains elusive as negotiations continue in the face of a weekend strike deadline that could wreak havoc on the region's already congested roadways.

The parties met for several hours Thursday at a Hilton hotel in downtown Newark, two days after representatives for both sides expressed optimism at the tenor of the negotiations. Each spent Wednesday reviewing details of proposals made the day before.

By mid-afternoon Thursday, NJ Transit's special counsel said he was still optimistic that a deal could be struck before the 12:01 a.m. Sunday deadline but that key issues such as wages and health care remained in play.

The two sides planned to resume their face-to-face talks Friday morning.

"There are a fair number of moving pieces still," Gary Dellaverson said. "Collective bargaining agreements are very complicated. This one is complicated, but there are only a few things that are continuing to move. Now, they happen to be important things.

"Their desire and our desire, at least as of this moment, is the same, which is to reach a peaceful, across-the-table resolution," he added.

Union officials didn't comment on the negotiations when they emerged Thursday from the ballroom where talks were being held.

More than 4,000 NJ Transit rail workers have authorized a strike for early Sunday. The two sides have yet to agree on wage increases, health care costs and the length of a contract.

Unions have been working without a contract for nearly five years.

About 105,000 people commute into New York via NJ Transit, the nation's third-largest commuter railroad.

NJ Transit warned last week that only about four in 10 rail commuters will be able to get into New York on the extra buses the agency said it would press into service as a contingency plan. That is projected to create backups of 20 miles or more at the chronically jammed Lincoln and Holland tunnels, traffic experts said last week.

Two emergency federal labor boards convened by President Barack Obama over the last several months leaned toward the unions' proposals, but NJ Transit rejected those recommendations as too costly for the agency to absorb without another fare increase. NJ Transit has raised fares twice in the last six years.