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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Early on Sunday, March 13, NJ TRANSIT will shut down all railroad service if the agency’s administration cannot reach a deal with a coalition of unions representing the railroad workers.
“NJ TRANSIT Rail Operations faces the prospect of a systemwide shutdown should the membership of its rail union opt to participate in a work stoppage,” reads an alert on the NJTransit.com website.
If the strike continues into Monday, March 14, the “complete suspension of NJ TRANSIT rail service… [will affect] more than 160,000 customers who ride the system on a typical weekday.”
The NJT Rail Labor Coalition, which is comprised of 11 unions, is asking for an 18% wage increase over the next six years, and to be able to limit their contribution to their health insurance to under 2.5%.
The administration wants to give a lower pay raise over a longer period of time, and also wants workers to cover upwards of 10% of their health insurance costs.
Negotiation has been heated, and two separate Presidential Emergency Boards were created by President Barack Obama to resolve the disagreement in demands. However, these boards have not been successful in mediating the conflict.
To help the huge amount of commuters who typically travel by rail, NJ TRANSIT has created a contingency plan using buses, ferries, and extra shuttles. According to the NJ TRANSIT press release, this plan will only account for 38% of commuters, or around 40,000 seats.
Kate Levine, a NJ TRANSIT daily commuter who travels between Newark and Westfield, says, “The strike will be awful for me. The buses they are offering do not help commuters who are traveling between counties that are not traveling upwards to New York, like me.”
Levine says that this contingency plan will cause many problems at her workplace because, “the majority of my job entails me to be at my office.”
Regional Park and Ride service will be provided from Metlife Stadium, PNC Bank Arts Center, Hamilton Rail Station, Metropark Rail Station, and Ramsey/Route 17 Rail Station.
Peak period service will be enhanced on 29 different bus routes, and the light rail will run as normal. The NJ TRANSIT rail tickets will be cross-honored on any bus or light rail line.
NJ TRANSIT Interim Director Dennis Martin warns commuters, “if a rail stoppage occurs, NJ TRANSIT customers, as well as people who normally drive to work should understand that this will not be a normal commute for anyone, particularly with the potential for more than 10,000 additional cars on the road per peak hour.”
Despite the multitude of problems NJ commuters, NJ TRANSIT employees, and the NJ TRANSIT administration will most likely be facing in the next few days, Governor Chris Christie is out of the state on vacation and is unlikely to be personally affected by the shutdown.