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New York's transit authority cuts deal to end 2-year pay dispute

By Edward Krudy

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) struck a deal on Thursday to end a 2-year pay dispute with a more generous offer to workers than the years of pay freezes it had originally proposed, New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

The MTA, a state-run agency, had previously insisted on 3 years of pay freezes, but the new deal struck with the help of the governor's office, which is eager to avoid a strike in an election year, offered an 8 percent pay rise over 5 years.

That includes two 1 percent pay rises for 2012 and 2013 and 2 percent rises in 2014 through to 2016.

"The resolution of this contract dispute is fair to transit workers, fiscally responsible for the MTA, and will have no impact on fares," Cuomo said in a statement, adding that the transit system was the "lifeblood" of New York City.

The MTA declined to immediately put a figure on the cost of the deal, which also includes an increase in employee healthcare contributions from 1.5 percent to 2 percent, paid parental leave, broader healthcare coverage, and improved dental and optical benefits.

The MTA runs 842 miles of subway tracks in New York City as well as urban buses, the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and Metro North rail systems, and some of the city's bridges and tunnels. New York City's urban transport network is the largest in the country

The current agreement mostly covers workers on the subway and bus systems and does not include the LIRR, which has its own ongoing dispute with the MTA.

Cuomo, a Democrat who is up for reelection in November, said the agreement would be accommodated within a revision to the MTA's $13.5 billion budget, but did not provide specifics other than confirming the deal would not lead to an increase in wages.

"This is a fair and equitable contract for transit workers. The agreement secures raises in every year of the contract, with full retroactive pay," said John Samuelsen, president of TWU Local 100, the union which represents 34,000 MTA workers. The deal still needs to be ratified by union members.

The deal will likely be closely scrutinized by public city workers in New York City, all 300,000 of which are currently working without a contract due to a dispute with the administration of former mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had also insisted on pay freezes for public workers.

The City's new mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat who is seen as more labor friendly than Bloomberg, is currently negotiating with the United Federation of Teachers, the city's teachers' Union. The deal outlined today could add weight to their claims for retroactive pay increases.

(Reporting by Edward Krudy)

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