An agreement on a new labor contract between SEPTA and its largest union, Transport Workers Union Local 234, could be announced later today. Health care issues have been settled and all that remains is adjustments to the wage scale for the 5,100 TWU members who operate and maintain trolleys, subways and buses. Gov. Ed Rendell, anxious to prevent a strike during the World Series at Citizens Bank Park in south Philadelphia, kept negotiators talking until 10:15 p.m. Saturday, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports in its Sunday editions (full text):
"Posted on Sun, Nov. 1, 2009
SEPTA strike threat is ended
A contract agreement was expected today after Gov. Rendell
kept negotiators talking until 10:15 last night.
By Paul Nussbaum and Jennifer Lin
Inquirer Staff Writers
Negotiators for SEPTA and its largest union, ordered back to the bargaining table by Gov. Rendell to avert the threat of a transit strike during the World Series, were optimistic last night that a new contract would be reached today.
Health-care issues had been resolved, and the sides were reported to be close to an agreement on wages as talks ended for the day at 10:15 p.m. at the Bellevue. The two sides were to reconvene at 6 p.m. today.
As he was leaving the Bellevue, Willie Brown, the new president of Transport Workers Union Local 234, said members would not see an increase in their contributions to the cost of health insurance. Members currently contribute 1 percent of their base pay toward coverage.
On wages, Brown said the two sides were "just about there."
Jerri Williams, a SEPTA spokeswoman, declined to comment on specifics of the talks, but said they had been helped by the presence of Rendell and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Phila.).
"The governor has been very instrumental," Williams said.
Rendell said the gap between the transit agency and the union had narrowed significantly.
"We're very close," he said. "These are tough economic times, and this puts pressure on management and the union."
Rendell ordered negotiators to remain at the bargaining table to keep the city's buses, subways, and trolleys running as the World Series turned the national spotlight on Philadelphia. The prospect of a transit strike in the middle of the Series threatened to create chaos for residents and visitors as well as tarnish the city's reputation.
About five hours before the first pitch of last night's game, Rendell, Mayor Nutter, and Brady announced that SEPTA and the union were close to an agreement.
"I have told both sides they're going to stay at the bargaining table," Rendell said. If either side walked out of talks, he said, he would punish it by withholding future state support.
The breakthrough came after Rendell, Nutter, and Brady joined negotiators early yesterday and kept talks going after a midnight strike deadline. Unable to reach a consensus before dawn, union leaders gathered with the politicians at Rendell's office in the afternoon and soon agreed to drop the strike threat.
Brown, the union's leader, had been reluctant to give up the leverage of a strike during the World Series after seven months without a contract. He acknowledged yesterday, "I will have to take my lumps from my members."
But he said, "We expect a contract very soon."
The dramatic end to the threat of a strike came in an afternoon news conference in the grand lobby of the Bellevue, at Broad and Walnut Streets, where Rendell has his Philadelphia office.
Nutter praised the no-strike pact, saying, "We should all breathe a big sigh of relief."
SEPTA put additional express trains on the Broad Street Line to handle the extra crush of subway passengers headed to Citizens Bank Park and the Spectrum, which was hosting its last concert. PATCO added cars to its trains running between Center City and South Jersey.
SEPTA's city transit division, which operates the buses, subways, and trolleys within Philadelphia, carries an average of more than 928,000 trips every weekday. The added sports and entertainment attractions this weekend were expected to add tens of thousands of riders.
Local 234, which represents about 5,100 bus, subway, and trolley operators and mechanics, was seeking a 19 percent pay raise over five years, and it said SEPTA was offering 9 percent over five years with no increase in the first year of the new contract.
The union has been working without a contract since early spring.
SEPTA bus, subway, and trolley operators earn from $14.54 to $24.24 an hour, reaching the top rate after four years. Mechanics earn $14.40 to $27.59 an hour.
[end text] http://tinyurl.com/yeyvqfc
Edward B. Havens
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