Monday, March 08, 2004


Today's Inquirer confirms reports posted here yesterday that TWU Local 234 authorized a strike should negotiations break down this week. And for all that talk about civil negotiations last month? Forget it.

The debt-ridden transit agency's proposal is "the worst in the history" of Transport Workers Union Local 234, union president Jean Alexander told 1,800 union members yesterday. The standing-room-only crowd granted Alexander the authority to strike with a roar and a standing ovation in the ballroom of the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 hall in South Philadelphia.

"The trend is that employees pay for health care," Alexander told the crowd. "But Local 234 does not follow the trend. We set trends."

SEPTA is proposing a wage freeze for CFY 2005 and CFY 2006, with a 2 percent raise in CFY 2007 and CFY 2008. There was no mention of any lump-sum payouts as had been rumored yesterday. In addition, SEPTA is proposing that union members contribute 20 percent of health-care costs. Under SEPTA's plan, retirees would have three years of post-retirement prescription coverage as opposed to the present lifetime coverage presently offered. The union is obviously not thrilled with the proposal.

"If they stick to these demands, we will definitely be out," said SEPTA bus mechanic Tommy Gee, 58. "I do not want to go out, but I will."

Rare and prized benefits such as those are worth fighting for, said Anita Booker, 36.

"Most of us are here for the benefits," said Booker, a bus driver and mother of two elementary school-age boys. "In these jobs, you work 12 or 15 hours a day. I stay in it for the health care for me and my children."

Despite the rhetoric from the union, SEPTA sent Minister of Mis-Information Richard Maloney out to assure riders that all is well.

"I am optimistic we can come to an agreement," Maloney said. "Both sides are aware of the challenge in front of us." Inquirer

Amazingly enough, at least one other person on the SEPTA payroll is optimistic about a possible settlement.

"Women raise kids. They are the backbone of the family. The don't let their egos get in the way," said (Midvale bus operator Bill) James, 51. "I am hoping that [SEPTA general manager] Faye Moore and Jean [Alexander] can work this out. Between these two women, maybe we can get a contract without all the bitter hostility of the past." Inquirer

I can't say much about Jean Alexander, but as for Fearless Leader? This is a general manager who is absolutely hated among the rank-and-file because of her background as an accountant with limited day-to-day operations experience. This is a GM who has this concept about being "off the clock" when the clock strikes 5:00pm and a major emergency develops. This is a GM who is slowly turning into a diva following her refusal to even address the Silverliner V controversy (remember the remarks in the Daily News?).

Yet, in spite of any new contract, SEPTA is still talking about fare hikes and service cuts. This looks to be a long year for SEPTA's riders.

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