SEPTA's biggest union doesn't want to strike, but will it?

MATTHEW HALL / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Transport Workers Union Local 234 leader Willie Brown doesn't want a strike, but he called one in 2009 when negotiations went sour.
MATTHEW HALL / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Transport Workers Union Local 234 leader Willie Brown doesn't want a strike, but he called one in 2009 when negotiations went sour.
Posted: April 04, 2014

WHEN THE LAST of SEPTA's contracts with its unionized workers expires on Sunday, the clock starts ticking on the time bomb of a crippling transit strike.

Willie Brown, president of Transport Workers Union Local 234, which represents 5,000 transit workers, told the Daily News yesterday that he does not want a strike.

But this is the same Willie Brown who suddenly called one in 2009, leaving hundreds of thousands of SEPTA riders stranded for six days.

Brown told the Daily News yesterday that he won't accept SEPTA's initial offer of a five-year contract with no raises during 2014 and 2015, a 6 percent raise spread over the next three years, increased employee contributions to health care and no pension plan for new hires.

Brown informed his union's bus drivers, subway and trolley operators, and mechanics that SEPTA's concession demands "should make your blood boil."

He said he wants a two-year contract in which SEPTA does not impose increases in employee health-care contributions until real numbers are available on what Obamacare will cost the transit agency.

"There's no history of the real costs of the Affordable Care Act," Brown said. "I don't want to rely on SEPTA's guesstimations."

Brown wants binding arbitration instead of the negotiation that SEPTA favors. "We are miles apart," Brown said.

When the transit agency's contract with Local 234 expired in mid-March, the two sides met and, Brown said, "SEPTA put on a dog and pony show," coming back with a counterproposal that was basically the same as its first offer.

"I'm not going to negotiate against myself," Brown said.

The two sides plan to come to the bargaining table today at Local 234 headquarters on 2nd Street near Spring Garden.

Tonight, Brown said, there will be an "emergency strike meeting" of the union's Joint Executive Board.

SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said in a statement that the transit agency supported "good-faith negotiations" instead of binding arbitration.

"It is not in the best interest of SEPTA, its employees, the union or the taxpayers for a third party - with no vested interest in the day-to-day operations of the [transit] authority - to dictate the wages, benefits and working conditions of SEPTA's workers," Williams said.

"The union's threat to strike does nothing to move the parties closer to an agreement," she added. "SEPTA urges the union to continue bargaining at the table so that the parties can reach an amicable settlement."

Because all of SEPTA's union contracts will have expired by Sunday, there is a historically rare possibility that all the unions could strike together to totally disable the region's transit system. Besides Local 234, there are 16 other unions, representing Regional Rail workers, engineers and many more employees.

But Local 234 spokesman Jamie Horwitz told the Daily News that although the unions are sharing information, there is no talk of an all-unions strike.


On Twitter: @DanGeringer

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