Talks between New Jersey Transit and rail worker unions resumed Thursday as tens of thousands of commuters were left wondering whether they'll be able to get to work next week in case of a strike.
More than 4,000 NJ Transit rail workers have authorized a strike for early Sunday. The two sides have yet to agree on wage increases, health care costs and the length of a contract.
Unions have been working without a contract for nearly five years.
About 105,000 people commute into New York via NJ Transit, the nation's third-largest commuter railroad. NJ Transit had warned last week that only about four in 10 rail commuters will be able to get into New York on the extra buses the agency said it would press into service as a contingency plan.
That is projected to create backups of 20 miles or more at the already jammed Lincoln and Holland tunnels, traffic experts said last week.
An NJ Transit negotiator said Thursday before the meetings began that although the sides didn't agree on the issues, he was optimistic because the tone of the meetings has been positive.
"The last day or two have been characterized by reasonable progress, mostly in the way of tone and tenor," Gary Dellaverson said. "Having done this a lot, I can say that tone and tenor can have a lot to do with closing the gap."
Key issues dividing labor and management are wage increases, health care costs and the length of the contract. Two emergency federal labor boards convened by President Barack Obama over the last several months leaned toward the unions' proposals, but NJ Transit rejected those recommendations as too costly for the agency to absorb without another fare increase. NJ Transit has raised fares twice in the last six years.