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Telecommuting could soften strike impact

Charles Lane

Penn Station at rush hour is a din of train roars and the constant barking of a metallic PA system. A wall of commuters watch the boards to see what track their train comes in on. Once the train is called there is a mad rush down the stairs to find a seat.

In past strikes all 300,000 of these commuters would crowd the highways and bridges into Manhattan. Either that or risk losing their jobs. But there is a big difference between the last strike in 1994 and this week.

“Today we have laptops. So I'm working from home for the whole strike.”

Edward Rios is a lawyer from Baldwin who has ridden the LIRR for 30 years. He remembers the 1994 strike as an anguishing two days of five hour commutes home.

He says the unions are doing themselves a disservice because working remotely has become commonplace now.

"All the instant communication and devices that we have now. People are going to find out now, we have alternatives."

Partnership for New York City, a business group, confirms what many commuters at Penn Station say, that they will watch the strike from home. The association conducted a poll of its members and found that most businesses plan to allow Long Island workers to work from home during the strike.

According to research on telecommuting, Long Island lags the rest of the country in remote office working. But Kate Lister a telework researcher says that Long Islanders have never needed to telecommute because of the robust transit network.

"But once companies realize that they can continue to operate and their people are more productive and that they can save money it's going to be hard to get people back on that train."

Lister says there is a trend of countries increasing telecommutes after big traffic problems like the Olympics, papal visits, or like after Superstorm Sandy.

She says workers just need a reason to start and this strike may be it.  

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.
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