Union for SEPTA employees seeks injunction against outsourcing

Posted: June 13, 2012

Workers for SEPTA are seeking an injunction to prevent the transit agency from outsourcing maintenance work on Market-Frankford El cars.

Transport Workers Union Local 234 argued in a Common Pleas Court filing that SEPTA was wrongfully taking work from TWU members by paying $13 million to Bombardier Mass Transit Corp. of Plattsburgh, N.Y., to overhaul 176 wheel-assembly units for the cars. The maintenance of those subway "trucks," which include wheels and gearboxes and motors, is normally done by SEPTA workers.

The TWU said SEPTA failed to meet its contractual obligation to "completely discuss and investigate the necessity for subletting before equipment is sent out for repair." The union filed a grievance against SEPTA in April, seeking arbitration, but went to court last week because, it said, much of the work would be completed before an arbitrator could rule.

A hearing will be Friday before Common Pleas Court Judge Idee Fox.

SEPTA's assistant general manager of operations, Luther Diggs said SEPTA had discussed the outsourcing with the union. He said SEPTA was saving time and money by paying Bombardier to overhaul the equipment as part of a bigger repair job on the frames of all 450 Market-Frankford units.

Cracks were discovered in 2009 in several frames of the Market-Frankford subway trucks, and SEPTA requested Bombardier, owner of the manufacturer of the subway cars, to make structural repairs to all Market-Frankford units at no charge.

After lengthy negotiations, Bombardier agreed to make the repairs, and to include the maintenance overhaul of 176 of the units, for $13 million. The rest of the units already had been overhauled by SEPTA's workers.

"It made good business sense, if Bombardier was going to take them out and make repairs, to go ahead and overhaul them while they had them apart," Diggs said. "It didn't make sense to bring them back here and take them apart again."

Diggs said SEPTA would save $700,000 by having Bombardier do the work, and he said "no one loses their job, no one gets laid off, no one gets fired."

Claiborne S. Newlin, an attorney for the union, said SEPTA signed its deal with Bombardier on April 16, and the first meeting with the TWU about the outsourcing was April 13. Because the deal was already negotiated, Newlin said, the union never got its contractual opportunity to investigate the need for outsourcing or to demonstrate how SEPTA workers could do the work at lower cost.

The first of the units are slated to go to Bombardier for repairs on June 22, Newlin said, which compelled the union to seek the court injunction.

Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.

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