Union officials and NJ Transit negotiators announced they had reached a tentative contract deal, averting what could have been its first strike since 1983.
"You can all smile now," Stephen Burkert, a spokesman for the labor coalition, told reporters shortly before 7 p.m. Friday. "We have reached a tentative agreement. Thankfully for the commuters of NJ transit the crisis is averted. We thank our members for having faith in us in solidarity. We're going home to our families."
The agreement means trains will keep running after the union's strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. Sunday — a relief for the transit agency's 160,000 rail commuters, many of whom finished the work week without knowing how they'd get to work Monday.
NJ Transit had put contingency plans into place, but warned they could only accommodate 38 percent of the commuters who ride into Penn Station.
No financial deals of the contract were immediately released, and it was not immediately clear how NJ Transit would pay for the wage increase. The agency had previously said it could not afford a substantial raise for workers without raising fares.
Martin Robins, a founder of NJ Transit, said the agency's finances are precarious — and he worried about where the agency would find the money. "Operating funding is at the heart of what this dispute (has been) about," he said. "Because there have been five years of no agreement, the retroactivity aspect of the settlement just keeps mounting and mounting and mounting."
The 4,200 rail workers, who are represented by 11 different unions, have been without a contract since 2011.
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