SEPTA chairman gets power to approve contracts

SEPTA board chairman Pat Deon. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)

In a move to ease the threat of a commuter rail strike, SEPTA's board on Monday delegated its authority to approve new labor contracts to board Chairman Pasquale T. "Pat" Deon Sr.

Deon was authorized to sign a new pact with Regional Rail electrical workers if the 215 workers ratify the contract in balloting that is now underway.

That would allow the workers to get their raises before the next scheduled SEPTA board meeting at the end of September.

No deal has been reached with Regional Rail locomotive engineers, however, so the possibility of a commuter rail strike remains.

Negotiators for the engineers and SEPTA are to meet Tuesday, and if they reach agreement, Deon is also empowered to sign a ratified settlement with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

Without a settlement, engineers could strike as early as Oct. 12, when a 120-day mediation period ends, though it is likely that Gov. Corbett would ask President Obama to create a second mediation board, pushing the strike date back an additional 120 days, to February.

The terms of the tentative deal with IBEW Local 744, which represents the railroad electrical workers, are similar to those offered earlier: an immediate 11.5 percent raise, or about $3 an hour to $29.50 an hour, on average. The electricians' last contract ended in 2009.

All workers would also get a $1,250 "signing bonus," as did the bus drivers' union in 2009; their contract sets the pattern for the 16 other SEPTA unions.

That union, Transport Workers Local 234, represents about 5,000 bus drivers, subway operators, mechanics, and cashiers who are working under terms of a contract that expired March 15.

They could walk out at any time, once a strike-authorization vote is taken. That vote is likely "in the very near future," said TWU president Willie Brown, who predicted that a strike by bus, subway, and trolley workers was all but certain.