Chilling thought: Total SEPTA shutdown in February

A SEPTA Regional Rail train at the Jefferson station. SEPTA officials will ask for a second 120-day presidential emergency board if no rail settlement is reached by Oct. 13.

There won't be a SEPTA rail strike on Oct. 13.

But there might be one on Feb. 10. And that could coincide with a possible strike by bus, subway, and trolley workers, shutting down the entire SEPTA system.

SEPTA officials said Friday that they will ask for a second 120-day presidential emergency board to mediate the Regional Rail labor dispute when the current board's term expires at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 13, if no settlement is reached by then.

Under the federal Railway Labor Act, that would compel locomotive engineers and SEPTA to continue to operate as normal until the end of the 120 days, on Feb. 10.

SEPTA's 220 locomotive engineers and 215 railroad electrical workers went on a one-day strike on June 14, before President Obama appointed the first presidential board at Gov. Corbett's request.

That was the first Regional Rail strike since a 108-day walkout in 1983.

The first presidential board issued its report in July, largely siding with SEPTA management.

That prompted the electrical workers to settle with SEPTA, accepting the recommendations of the presidential board.

Leaders of the engineers' union say that they, too, would now settle for the terms recommended by the presidential board, but that SEPTA management has balked at one provision: the effective date of future wage increases.

SEPTA says one other issue is holding up a settlement: A requirement that engineers wear uniforms.

"They have agreed to accept a uniform allowance [of $270 per year] and wear a vest," said SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams. "We feel a shirt and additional outerwear would be appropriate."

SEPTA has offered the rail workers the same 11.5 percent raises negotiated in a five-year contract in 2009 by bus drivers, subway operators, and other workers represented by Transport Workers Union Local 234. The TWU's contract typically sets the pattern for all contracts with SEPTA's 17 unions.

The TWU workers are now in acrimonious negotiations for a new contract and could strike soon - or wait for a coordinated walkout with the rail workers.

The TWU employees have been working without a contract since spring.

They could go on strike on short notice, and TWU president Willie Brown has said a strike is all but inevitable. He has not said when the union would strike.

If the TWU and the Regional Rail workers went on strike at the same time, it would be the first time in SEPTA's 50-year history that the entire transportation network would be shut down by a strike.

Negotiators have made little progress in recent talks.

The rail engineers and SEPTA are to resume negotiations on Monday, said Stephen Bruno, vice president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

Bruno accused SEPTA of dragging out the process to avoid a settlement.

"They have used the system to avoid getting to the end of this," Bruno said Friday. "I think we could settle this fairly quickly."

SEPTA spokeswoman Williams said, "We're hopeful we can reach a settlement next week. We're not that far apart. But if we don't, we wanted to make sure our Regional Rail riders know there will not be a strike."

 


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