A Tale of Two Looming Transit Strikes

Kate Hinds | March 8, 2016 | Katz on Christie

Five days before NJ Transit rail workers could go out on strike, Gov. Chris Christie left the state to vacation with his wife to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.

“It’s not the job of the governor to negotiate this personally,” he said before he left Monday. “It is the job of the governor to set down parameters for negotiation, which are executed by professionals.”

Contrast that with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who, nearly two years ago, swooped in four days before a threatened Long Island Rail Road strike and brokered a deal while dining on seafood.

“I have a day job also,” Cuomo said at the time, “so if I don’t have to get involved better I don’t. But again, I thought in these circumstances, it merited it.”

In case you had forgotten Gov. Cuomo brokered the LIRR deal, MTA chief Tom Prendergast subtly reminded reporters of that at a press conference Tuesday morning. When asked what the MTA’s plans were if NJ Transit rail shut down, Prendergast said, “Everybody’s working very hard to try to avoid a strike, much like we did, and the governor interceded for our Long Island Rail Road strike.”

But initially, Cuomo wanted little to do with the LIRR negotiations. He suggested that Congress should solve it, and if it didn’t, that a strike would be “a real pain, maybe, but not a disaster.” What’s more, in the end, the Democrat had good reason to intervene: 2014 was an election year, and he wanted to keep the unions in his tent and Long Island voters in his column.

By contrast, Christie, a Republican, may have reached the end of his public service career, so unions don’t have leverage over him (if they ever did). Plus, his absence could be strategic. Christie won a showdown in 2010 with Democrats who threatened to close the state government over a budget impasse by calling their bluff and saying they could go ahead and shut down government.

“I’m going to order a pizza, I’m going to watch the Mets,” he said at the time. “And when you decide to reopen the government, give me a call and I’ll come back.”

(Then again, Christie had been in New Jersey working hard on that budget, while in this case, his constituents are very aware that the governor’s attention and time has been elsewhere the last couple of years.)

In the meantime, face-to-face negotiations between NJ Transit and the unions will resume Thursday. In a statement, a spokeswoman for the agency said, “Today’s discussions were productive and positive.”

Matt Katz contributed to this story.