Metro-North workers take strike threat to commuters

The escalating battle between Metro-North Railroad and its unionized workers hit the Stamford train station on Thursday. Inspectors and mechanics hit the platform to warn riders of a potentially crippling rail strike.
“We're out here today because Metro-North refuses to negotiate with us in good faith,” said Patrick Howard, president of Transportation Workers Union Local 2001.
Union leaders handed out dozens of flyers to morning commuters, telling them a walkout could grind the entire system to a halt as early as October. The group has also greeted riders at Grand Central Station in New York and Union Station in New Haven.
In the event of a strike, Howard said other unions have agreed to not cross picket lines.
“Without them, the railroad is not going to operate,” he said.
Two TWU locals, representing about 600 employees, haven't had a contract since 2019. They want better pay and to remove language letting Metro-North reopen their contracts in an economic downtown. The dispute comes as the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which operates Metro-North, paid more than $1 billion in overtime last year. Some Long Island Railroad employees reportedly quadrupled their salaries with OT.
Metro-North is the nation’s second-largest commuter railroad, carrying some 200,000 riders each day. The last time workers picketed was 1983, when the system shut down for 42 days and forced 90,000 cars per day onto I-95 and the Merritt Parkway.
“Oh, that would be a lot of traffic,” said Lexi Gutierrez, a commuter from Norwalk. “That would be horrendous.”
Today though, the potential impact is less clear as more post-pandemic employees can work from home.
Some commuters support a strike, in spite of the inconvenience.
“I kind of like the idea of striking,” said Mark Fuller, of Norwalk. “I think it helps people that aren't, maybe, getting a fair shake, moneywise.”
Howard said a walkout could happen as early as October, but that timeline could be aggressive.
"There is no imminent risk of a strike and to suggest otherwise is extremely misleading,” said MTA spokesman Michael Cortez.
Cortez would not comment on specifics of contract negotiations.
Both sides are currently undergoing mediation through the Railroad Labor Act, with another meeting set for Friday.
Before a shutdown could happen, the dispute could go to an arbitrator. Also, the federal government could intervene. In December, President Joe Biden pulled the plug on a freight walkout that could have paralyzed the U.S. economy.
But on the Stamford platform, union workers told commuters to start preparing now. “We don't want our members out on the streets,” said Howard. “We want them working, but we want them working with a fair and equitable contract.”
News 12 Connecticut asked the Connecticut Department of Transportation about contingency plans like added bus service, but the agency referred us back to Metro-North.