Union chief accuses SEPTA of trying to provoke strike

Posted: March 19, 2014

With no bargaining talks scheduled between SEPTA and transit workers, the president of the agency's largest union accused it of trying to provoke a strike.

The contract between SEPTA and 4,700 city bus drivers, subway operators and maintenance workers represented by Transport Workers Union Local 234 expired at midnight Friday. TWU leaders did not call for an immediate strike, saying they would wait at least until after suburban driver and mechanic contracts expired during the first week of April.

In a letter dated Friday, TWU Local 234 president Willie Brown accused SEPTA of dawdling in negotiations and spurning a union offer of a two-year economic pact.

"After reading SEPTA's proposals, I have come to the conclusion that one of two things are happening," Brown wrote to SEPTA chief labor relations officer Stephanie Deiger. "Either SEPTA wants to provoke a strike or you have slipped and bumped your head.

"Whatever the case may be, your proposal is no good for my members or the riding public."

Among the major issues, according to the union, are pension contributions and health-insurance costs.

Brown said the union would forgo its right to strike in exchange for an agreement by SEPTA to submit the contract proposals to binding arbitration. SEPTA said it would not do so.

"We remain committed to resolving this contract through good-faith bargaining," Deiger wrote in a response to Brown. "Accordingly, we are not interested in your suggestion that we submit the contract dispute to binding arbitration.

"Good-faith negotiations . . . are the best mechanism for both parties to retain full authority and discretion to resolve the contract in a manner that will serve the interests of the riding public, our employees, and the taxpayers who fund the authority."

The two sides have not met since Thursday. No talks are scheduled, SEPTA spokesman Jerri Williams said Monday.

Although SEPTA officials will not say what they are offering in wage and benefit increases, the authority's budget assumes annual increases of 3 percent for labor costs through 2019.

The base salary for new SEPTA bus drivers is $33,887, and drivers with four or more years of experience are paid $55,620 a year. Including overtime pay, on average a TWU member makes $64,847 a year, Williams said.

Meanwhile, in Harrisburg on Monday, State Rep. Kate Harper (R., Montgomery) introduced a bill to prohibit strikes by SEPTA workers.

Her proposal is similar to a bill she introduced in 2009, just after SEPTA's last strike. That bill did not make it out of committee, but Harper said she believed public and legislative attitudes had changed.

"They are essential workers," Harper said of SEPTA employees. "They should stay on the job and work it out."

TWU spokesman Jamie Horwitz said Harper's proposal was "ill-conceived" and could jeopardize federal funding for SEPTA. Federal transit law requires the continuation of any collective bargaining rights that were in place when the employer started receiving federal funds.


pnussbaum@phillynews.com

215-854-4587

@nussbaumpaul

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