'We got it done': SEPTA, union reach tentative pact

SEPTA buses along Woodland Avenue in West Philadelphia. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)

SEPTA and union negotiators reached a tentative agreement late Friday, averting the possibility of a strike that would have affected about a million daily bus, subway, and trolley riders in the region.

With the assistance of U.S. Rep. Robert Brady (D., Pa.), the two sides came to terms on a two-year pact that will give workers a 5 percent raise over the life of the contract. The agreement awaits approval by the SEPTA board and the membership of Transport Workers Union Local 234.

The terms will set the pattern for contracts with other unions representing SEPTA employees.

"I think it is a fair contract for everybody," said Pasquale "Pat" Deon Sr., SEPTA board chairman. He said Friday night's settlement was the result of "the determination of both sides to get it done."

Willie Brown, union president, said: "We got it done. I'm satisfied." He thanked SEPTA customers for their "patience and understanding."

A ratification vote will probably be held in the middle of next week, Brown said.

The 5,000 bus drivers, subway and trolley operators, cashiers, and mechanics the TWU represents had been working without a contract since March and April, when the previous contracts expired.

Brown, who led his members on a weeklong strike in 2009, had warned that another walkout was likely this year.

But the two sides, emerging from talks at the Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District hotel in Old City, announced a deal shortly before 11 p.m.

Brady, a labor leader and head of Philadelphia's Democratic Party, helped broker the deal, as he has done with numerous agreements in the past.

With the possibility looming of a transit strike on Election Day, Brady urged the two sides to work out their differences on wages, pensions, and health-care contributions.

By agreeing to a two-year deal instead of a five-year agreement, SEPTA and the union were able to postpone decisions on pension and health-care issues, which had been major sticking points.

Local 234 is the largest of SEPTA's 17 unions.

In the days leading up to Friday's agreement, employers and workers throughout the region started to make contingency plans for a possible halt in service.

The TWU's surprise predawn walkout in 2009 left thousands of commuters in the lurch, drawing fire from Mayor Nutter and then-Gov. Ed Rendell.

The union had threatened to strike as the World Series was being played in Philadelphia, but it did not actually go out until 3 a.m. Nov. 3, after the Series left town.

The current base salary for new SEPTA bus drivers is $33,887, and drivers with four or more years of experience make $55,620 a year. Including overtime pay, the typical TWU member is paid $64,847 a year, SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said.

Brown said workers wanted to receive pension payouts on a formula comparable with the plan for managers, which he said gives retired managers three times more than union workers receive if they contribute the same amount to the fund.

SEPTA contends managers' pensions are higher because their salaries are higher.

SEPTA officials said union workers made no contributions to their pension fund until the late 1990s. Since then, contributions have been negotiated to cover increases in pension benefits. Union workers now contribute 3.5 percent of their pre-overtime pay to the pension fund.

 


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