When we heard that SEPTA workers had taken to the picket lines, we went digging through the archives to see how this round of negotiations compares to 2005 -- when the union last went out on strike.
In '05, the battle between SEPTA and Transport Workers Union Local 234 centered around health care costs. Union employees had never before contributed to their health care, and SEPTA was pushing them to chip in 5 percent toward their premiums. The two sides eventually settled on 1-percent contributions, excluding income from overtime.
Though SEPTA did begin these negotiations asking workers for increased health care contributions, it has since dropped that request. Now the main sticking point is the size of wage increases. SEPTA has offered a five-year contract with no raise in the first year, a 2.5-percent hike in the second year and 3-percent raises for the remaining three years, along with a first-year $1,250 signing bonus. That didn’t satisfy union leaders, who argue that the increase is less than they saw under the 2005 contract, when wages increased 3 percent a year.
SEPTA’s finances have improved. The authority faced a $92 million hole in its 2006 budget, and needed a state bailout to break even. Since then, it has been granted its first source of dedicated state funding (though that money may be in jeopardy if the state doesn't succeed in its attempt to toll I-80). And though ridership and revenues are down due to high unemployment, SEPTA hopes those numbers will level off in the coming months.
A lot of things have changed since 2005, but here's one that hasn't really: In 2005, elected officials, especially Rep. Bob Brady (D-Pa.), were instrumental in getting both sides to compromise. Brady, along with Mayor Nutter and Gov. Rendell, has been heavily involved again this time. Hopefully they can make things happen more quickly than back in 2005. That strike lasted seven days.
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