SEPTA union: No immediate talks planned, or strike

Transportation Workers Union chief Willie Brown. (Matthew Hall / Staff Photographer)

Transit union negotiators will not resume talks with SEPTA until it provides extensive documentation on health-insurance and pension costs, Transport Workers Union Local 234 president Willie Brown said Tuesday.

But Brown said a strike by transit workers "is not in my immediate future." Union leaders have not called for a strike-authorization vote.

"As long as we get some movement, we're going to negotiate," he said.

In a phone conversation with reporters Tuesday, Brown blasted SEPTA for paying much higher pensions to managers than to union workers, calling it a "clash of the classes."

"We're all public employees . . . our benefits should be the same," Brown said. "We draw from the same funding source."

The last of four contracts for about 5,500 city and suburban bus, subway, and other nonrailroad workers expired Sunday night, raising the prospect of the first strike against SEPTA since 2009.

The two sides moved closer to a settlement last week, and SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams characterized SEPTA's proposal on Sunday night as its "final offer" for a two-year contract.

SEPTA is now offering a two-year contract, as the union requested, with wage increases of 2 percent the first year and 3 percent in the second year. Workers would have to spend an additional 1 percent of their wages on health-insurance premiums under the proposal.

SEPTA said it hoped "the union will return to the bargaining table to resume discussions over a longer-term agreement."

The union says its latest proposal is for a two-year pact with wage increases of 3.25 percent in the first year and 3 percent in the second year, with no increase in health-insurance premiums.

SEPTA withdrew a proposal to change the union's pension plan to require that new hires be placed in a separate plan that would be funded by the employees with a contribution from SEPTA.

Brown said the biggest remaining issue was pensions.

Managers can earn larger pensions than union workers because the calculation of a manager's pension continues to rise with salary, while a union worker's salary, for pension calculation purposes, is capped at $50,000 a year.

Brown said Tuesday that negotiations won't resume until SEPTA provides documentation requested by the union in February and March.

The requests included all medical-claim data for TWU members since August 2012, demographic information about union members, all pharmacy data, earnings data on union members by job description, the years of service of union members, the number of employees who retired since 2010 and their pension eligibility, and actuarial valuations for the retirement plans for management and union employees.

SEPTA chief financial officer Richard Burnfield said Tuesday that much of the information could be provided by Wednesday and the rest would be provided as soon as it could be compiled.

Burnfield said SEPTA management was concerned about rising costs for health insurance, because of mandates from the state and federal governments, and the cost of any increase in pension benefits.