No transit strike now, vows SEPTA union prez

MATTHEW HALL / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Willie Brown, head of Local 234, says he'll keep negotiating.
MATTHEW HALL / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Willie Brown, head of Local 234, says he'll keep negotiating.
Posted: April 10, 2014

WILLIE BROWN, president of Transport Workers Union Local 234, who shocked the city in 2009 by suddenly calling a SEPTA strike that lasted six days, said yesterday that he won't strike any time soon, as long as both sides are negotiating.

Actually, both sides haven't been negotiating since Sunday, when SEPTA submitted its "final offer based on the two-year framework that the union requested," said Jerri Williams, the transit agency's spokeswoman.

SEPTA proposed a 5 percent wage hike over two years, along with a 1 percent increase in union members' health-care contributions.

Brown accused the transit agency of misleading the union about health-care costs. "They're not SEPTA; they're deceptive," he grumbled.

Brown said SEPTA "put on a dog and pony show" in its financial presentations but "has yet to provide us with documentation" about why it needs more than 5,000 union members to pay an additional 1 percent of their wages for health care.

"That's like me selling you a house and giving you a price, but not allowing you inside the house to see what you're getting for your money," Brown said.

He added there is "no reason to schedule talks" until SEPTA provides thousands of details on health-care costs that Brown requested in writing.

Williams told the Daily News yesterday that Brown will have some of those numbers "by the end of the week, if not sooner."

Rich Burnfield, SEPTA's chief financial officer, said the transit agency is already bearing increased health-care costs because of the Affordable Care Act and other legal mandates.

These include providing health benefits for dependent children up to age 26 and "mental-health parity," which equalizes payments for physical and mental-health issues.

Burnfield said that new SEPTA hires, who used to work 15 months before getting prescription reimbursements, now get them after only 30 days.

Brown said the wide gap between union and management pension benefits is another stumbling block, calling it "the clash of the classes."

But he's ready to return to the bargaining table as soon as he gets SEPTA's health-care numbers, he said.

"A strike is not in my immediate plans," Brown said. "If we go out on strike, it will be absolutely, positively our last option. With what we have on the table now, there is no reason for a strike to occur."

On Twitter: @DanGeringer

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