After five years of unsuccessful negotiations with NJ Transit, a coalition of 17 rail unions appears to be on the brink of what is being called a “soft strike” in next month. The last NJ Transit work stoppage took place in March 1983, when employees walked off for 34 days.
The rail unions have been operating without a contract for nearly five years. Last month, a federal mediation board recommended a 78-month pact, similar to the unions’ proposal, that would increase union pay by 18% and include retroactive salary increases, setting rates based on comparable regional commuter railroads as opposed to the salaries of other state employees. NJ Transit stated that the unions’ proposed deal would be “not affordable” and would cause a fare increase of 30%.
The NJ Transit proposal, on the other hand, which was rejected by the Presidential Emergency Board, had sought a 90-month agreement with a 10.4% salary increase from 2013-2018 and a lump sum for retroactive pay in 2012.
The strike is expected to occur during the weekend of March 12, after which time the Obama administration is expected to step in and force workers back on the job. If the strike proceeds, picket lines along regional terminals could affect bus workers who have already negotiated a new contract with NJ Transit.
During the weekend of the possible strike, Madison Square Garden hosts the Big East Tournament while Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus visits the Prudential Center in Newark.