Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Oh, in case you missed it, the TWU and UTU are threatening to strike. It's rather hard to avoid all the coverage, so here's a sampling of reports, commentaries, and editorials over the past few weeks:

30 September - DAILY NEWS - TWU threatening strike 'to get a fair contract'

"We are tired of waiting," declared Local 234 president Jeff Brooks in his notice to members, which appeared on the union's Web site yesterday. "To get a fair contract, we are prepared to act. We can and will strike."

This is a sudden, ominous change from Brooks' long-held and oft-stated belief that SEPTA management was trying to "bully" the union into striking but that the union "refused to take the bait."

Look in the mirror, Brooksie...

Since the old contract expired in March, talks between Local 234 and SEPTA management have gone nowhere.

The bone of contention is that SEPTA wants all Local 234 members to co-pay for health care.

The union maintains that its members have historically co-paid only during their earliest years of employment and have sacrificed substantial pay raises in later years in exchange for SEPTA-funded health benefits.

Brooks has often said that members refuse to "pay twice for decent health care" by co-paying for benefits after having sacrificed pay raises to get SEPTA-paid health care.

No new contract means no pay raises for TWU members. So hostilities between the two parties are building toward a climax: Either there's agreement on a new contract or there's a union strike that would cripple the city's public-transit system.

"There will be news coming out of Sunday's meeting," union spokesman Bob Bedard promised. "SEPTA has not changed its position at all, and we're running out of options as to how to help SEPTA change its position."

Said SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney, "We haven't changed our position and we're not going to. It is obvious to the public that the prime issue is health care and that [union] employees will be contributing in some measure to their benefits.

"Are we panicking? No. At some point in time, reality has to hit and [union] employees will have to start paying something for their health care. We believe we can do a contract."

The only time SEPTA's Minister of Mis-information panics is when his tailored suits aren't perfectly pressed...

Bedard was skeptical. "We expect to make a major announcement Sunday about our next steps to secure a contract that SEPTA has dragged its feet on for almost a full year," he said.

"SEPTA is forcing us to act by not making any compromise, any movement in the negotiations. If SEPTA won't act with us, then we will act alone."

Maloney disagreed. "It has been the union that has extended this contract repeatedly since last March, time and time again," he said. "We have tried in every possible way to get them to the table.

"We believe, as we have said since April, that they certainly know, in intimate detail, the parameters of an agreement, and it's now a matter of sitting down and negotiating those final items."

Sunday's expected strike threat has put a damper on this week's good news that, in the wake of soaring gasoline prices, SEPTA's weekday ridership is up an average 25,000 as drivers realize that public transit can be a much cheaper way to commute to work than their automobiles.

"Last September, we had 750,000 riders per weekday; this September, we have 775,000," Maloney said. "The biggest jumps are in the city transit division. Subways are able to absorb the increase, but we do have some standing-room-only on bus lines.

"If ridership continues to grow like this, we will have to consider expansion of our lines."
Daily News

I'll believe THAT when I see it...

2 October - SEPTA Ministry of Mis-Information press release:

The Transport Workers Union has deliberately chosen to threaten a strike at a time that would create the greatest hardship to the people of the regional community.

  • Hundreds of thousands of daily commuters whose jobs depend on SEPTA
  • Tens of thousands of school students -- a strike would impact not only the student's transportation but also the work schedules of their families

  • The business community at the start of the economically important holiday shopping season

  • Thousands of new SEPTA commuters who cannot afford skyrocketing gasoline prices

  • The beginning of the winter weather season

On April 13, 2005, SEPTA publicly stated its fundamental position on the major contract issues, and said this position would not change in the future. For six months the union has refused to address these basic issues.

The union leadership is intimately aware of the parameters for a contract agreement, and SEPTA's positions. The threat of a strike is not only unnecessary, but is also a slap in the face of the very people the union claims to serve with its Community Partnership program.

SEPTA is prepared -- and has been all along -- to provide a fair and realistic contract for our highly valued employees.

It is time for the leadership of the TWU to finally face its responsibilities to its membership and the public, and come to the bargaining table to complete an agreement as quickly as possible. SEPTA

3 October - DAILY NEWS- TWU threatens strike over health care $

Vowing that SEPTA's 4,600 Transport Workers Union members will strike on Oct. 31 if they don't get a new contract, Local 234 president Jeff Brooks yesterday angrily declared, SEPTA "can't gut our health care."

He accused the transit agency of "buffaloing and bullying us out of what we have" by insisting that union members co-pay for health benefits.

In english, please?

Then he promised the thousand union members packing yesterday's meeting, "It's not going to happen in this lifetime."

Local 234 members have been working without a contract since (March), and without a raise for almost two years. But the hot-button issue isn't raises.

"Since this started in March, you have never heard me say anything about wages," Brooks said.

But, we know how things can change, right? Then again, since March, we haven't exactly heard Brooksie say anything intelligent...

For almost two decades, union members have co-paid early in their careers, then enjoyed SEPTA-paid health benefits for most of their employment and during retirement.

SEPTA claims that sharply rising costs of health care now require all union members to co-pay throughout their careers.

But Brooks asked what happened to the nearly $100 million that he says union members have saved SEPTA by foregoing years of raises and by co-paying for health care early in their careers.

Brooks said, "We will continue to negotiate in good faith, but I need somebody on the other side of the table to do it with. Unfortunately, the [SEPTA] people sitting at the table are... asking for something that is obscene."

SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney accused the union of threatening to strike when it would cause "chaos" by disrupting the lives of 700,000 daily commuters - schoolchildren and their working families, city business people who depend on holiday shoppers and 25,000 new workday riders who are taking transit to cut down on their use of high-priced gasoline.

Maloney said that SEPTA's position on health care hasn't changed since April - when he publicly said, "The health insurance issue is the elephant sitting at the bargaining table... It's time for Mr. Brooks to look the elephant in the eye."

Maloney said then, and repeated yesterday, that SEPTA's position on union members' co-paying for health care "would not change in the future."

Brooks characterized SEPTA's unchanging stance as dealing with "mannequins" at the bargaining table.

How does he think the riding public feels when dealing with, among other people, Customer Dis-services?

"How do you sit down with people who treat you like a disease?" he asked. "If SEPTA wants to save money, they should cut back on the amount of people who are dead wood," instead of demanding that "working people" give up their SEPTA-paid health care. Daily News

12 October - DAILY PENNSYLVANIAN (UPenn) - Counting down to a SEPTA shutdown

Currently, union workers do not pay their health-care premiums.

SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said that it is not economically feasible for this situation to continue.

"Every single business in the United States right now that offers health insurance to their employees is ... in a crisis," he said.

Maloney added that SEPTA is in the midst of a budget crisis that is "threatening the very survival of this transit authority."

Of course, mis-management has nothing to do with it, right, Richie?

The control of health-care spending, he said, will help to curb the crisis.

But union spokesman Bob Bedard said workers have already paid for these premiums as a result of a contract made 25 years ago.

"SEPTA wants to break the deal that they made with their employees ... and that was, 'If you guys take a little less in hourly wages and benefits, we will provide you with decent health-care benefits,'" Bedard said.

He added that the union is not willing to give in on this issue.

"Concede is not a word that transit workers know," he said. "We made a covenant with these people."

Both Maloney and Bedard said they hope that agreements will be reached before the strike deadline.

Bedard, however, said he is not optimistic.

"I don't own a crystal ball, but if I was going to give some advice to the citizens of southeastern Pennsylvania, I would tell them not to buy a rail pass for November because the trains probably won't be running," he said.

Apparently, Bedard is also a psychic...

The entire city will likely suffer the effects of such a strike, Penn professor of Transportation Engineering Vukan Vuchic said.

"A sizable number of the people cannot go to work," he said. "Students cannot go to school, patients cannot go to their doctors. Restaurants and local businesses suffer. So there is economic impact and social impact."

Vuchic added that there are tactics besides striking that would more effectively smooth the issues between SEPTA and its employees.

"The whole situation of labor and management relations in SEPTA is archaic, and it is a disaster," Vuchic said.

And, as Dr. Vuchic has probably seen over the years, any such suggestions will go in one ear and out the other...

He added that a strike will not benefit any party involved.

"They lose riders and lower their revenues, and of course the city loses," Vuchic said. "It is a lose-lose-lose proposition, very irrational, very backwards, and the responsibility resides with both SEPTA management and SEPTA labor unions and [with] an inactive mayor and political leaders." Daily Pennsylvanian

An inactive mayor? That's the understatement of the century...

18 October - DELAWARE COUNTY DAILY TIMES - Another SEPTA union threatens strike

A union backed by more than 300 SEPTA workers has given the transportation company a deadline for a new contract.

Ronald Koran, president of United Transportation Union Local 1594, which represents 320 workers, dispatched a letter Monday to SEPTA’s chief labor relations officer, Patrick J. Battel. The letter threatens a strike.

"We gotta do what we gotta do," Koran said.The letter states in plain language that stalled contract negotiations -- the workers’ last contract expired April 1 -- have left union negotiators with little choice.

"Your inability to negotiate with this union has put us in a disadvantage with our members and the riding public," the letter states. "It is unfortunate that you have forced this strike."

Of course, whatever the city workers are stuck with, the Red Arrow workers will get stuck with as well. The lone exception was 1998, when some back room dealing between SEPTA and the UTU led to an agreement with Red Arrow operators before the TWU got their deal.

The deadline, one minute after midnight Oct. 30, coincides with that threatened by another, much larger group of union workers. Transit Workers Union Local 234, which has several thousand members, has given SEPTA similar notice that, if an acceptable proposal is not given before that date, Halloween will be accompanied by a stalled transit system on which 1 million commuters rely.

The sticking point in negotiations has been health care. SEPTA wants its employees to start contributing toward health-care premiums, and the workers don’t want to pay. Currently, SEPTA employees contribute to their health care for their first four years on the job. SEPTA has proposed workers pay 20 percent of the premiums, and continue to do so every year. Delaware County Daily Times

17 October - SEPTA Ministry of Mis-Information press release

SEPTA is disappointed with the announced intention of UTU Local 1594 to strike on October 31. Local 1594 has traditionally followed the economic pattern set by the terms of agreement with TWU Local 234. TWU Local 234 has previously announced its intention to strike on the same date and time.

"Neither of these announced service interruptions is necessary," said SEPTA General Manager Faye Moore. "A strike hurts everyone in the region, the riding public, the employees and their families, as well as the economy of the region. We have presented a fair and realistic contract proposal to the unions and are awaiting their return to the bargaining table," she said.

If the unions strike only SEPTA regional rail lines would continue to operate.

23 October - Inquirer - A strike may push SEPTA off course

The threatened walkout by two unions on Halloween would halt virtually all SEPTA service except on its regional rail lines, stranding nearly 400,000 passengers.

It comes as ridership, already at a 13-year high, got an added boost last month when gas prices spiked. A lengthy strike could wipe out those gains.

At the same time, public-transit advocates, cheered on by Gov. Rendell, are renewing efforts to secure a dedicated source of state funding to end SEPTA's annual high-wire budget contortions. An ugly labor impasse, they warn, would only bolster some state lawmakers' view of SEPTA as a financial black hole.

Not to mention a lot of locally elected officials...

"A strike of any duration would be destructive," said Richard Voith, a former SEPTA board vice chairman tapped recently by Rendell to help solve the state funding dilemma. SEPTA riders, Voith added, "are weary of the threat of constant disruption; it makes them look for alternatives."

Disruption, however, is what the public may get.

Hell, we're used to it by now...

Vowing to walk unless new contracts are reached are about 5,000 members of Transit Workers Union of America Local 234 and 320 members of United Transportation Union Local 1594.

Local 234's contract expired in April, Local 1594's in May. Frustrated with the dearth of progress since then, both set strike deadlines this month.

The knottiest issue is SEPTA's insistence that all union members be required to pay 20 percent of their health-insurance premiums. Union officials say that would cost each worker, on average, at least $2,200 per year.

The transit unions are among "the very few large organizations in the country where the employees are not making any contribution to the basic health-care premium," SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said.

Union officials counter that members have already saved SEPTA plenty of money by forgoing raises and making other concessions in past contracts.

"Health care is something that we have paid for," TWU spokesman Bob Bedard said. "We're not going to let some thief in the night come and take it from us."

If there has been any give on this issue, neither side will acknowledge it.

Maloney: "Our position has not changed since last spring."

Bedard: "If I owned a bicycle, I would start double-locking it."

The barbs are sharpening just as SEPTA is adding new riders.

About 15,000 to 20,000 more people per day took SEPTA last month than in September 2004, the result of Hurricane Katrina pushing gas prices past $3 per gallon. Most of that 5 percent increase came on buses and subways that would be idled by a strike, said John McGee, SEPTA's ridership chief.

How much of the gain would be lost depends on the strike's duration, Maloney said.

"A few hours or a few days, [ridership] bounces right back," he said. "A week, two weeks or longer, that has a profound effect, and it takes months to gain it back, if not years."

See 1998...

Area politicians have yet to step into the fray, at least publicly, but that may change as the strike deadline nears.

State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), a longtime public transit supporter, said a quick resolution, whatever its terms, is essential.

"We kind of lurch from crisis to crisis, unfortunately," Evans said. "These people should lock themselves into a room, seven days a week, to negotiate a fair contract.

"Both sides know what the fiscal realities are," Evans said. "You can't spend what you don't have."

Ask anyone who has payments out the wazoo due while paychecks get delayed...

That much was evident in February when SEPTA, faced with a $49 million deficit, was poised to raise fares by 25 percent and cut 20 percent of its service.

To the last-minute rescue rode Rendell, who earmarked $412 million in unexpected federal highway money for transit agencies.

The governor also ordered up the nine-member Transportation Funding and Reform Commission to find ways of averting such brinkmanship in the future. Among its members are legislators, transit experts, and Jeffrey Brooks, president of TWU Local 234.

The commission is auditing SEPTA and other state transit agencies to root out any waste. In November 2006, it also is supposed to propose a plan for dedicated funding of transportation needs.

Selling that plan to state legislators could be tougher if SEPTA's labor talks go awry.

"The workforce should understand the effect [a strike] would have in Harrisburg," the governor said on Feb. 28.

State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Montgomery), who represents Senate Republicans on the SEPTA board, said a contract exempting workers from contributing to health-care premiums could undermine prospects for dedicated funding.

"There are people in Harrisburg who don't support mass transit, and they are looking for something like that to give them a reason not to give us the funding," Greenleaf said.

Bedard, the TWU spokesman, has little patience with such talk. SEPTA's "management mistakes are what creates the budget shortfalls, not the workers' benefits," he said.

He predicted that the state commission's audit will prove his point, though it is not expected to be completed until spring.

Translation: It'll be done after Rendell gets re-elected, assuming that happens...

For now, preparations for a tense week have begun.

TWU officials spent Thursday and Friday filming and editing TV commercials to run this week. SEPTA has rented rooms at the Crowne Plaza, anticipating a resumption of talks tomorrow.

25 October - Daily News - Strike Out

Here we go again.

As the transport workers' Halloween deadline fast approaches, SEPTA yesterday started issuing the life vests, telling its 400,000 daily riders to prepare for the worst.

"But I do remain hopeful that a deal can be reached," said General Manager Faye Moore.

And I'd like to go out on a date with Jessica Simpson. I don't see that happening either...

We wish we could be as confident. So far, neither side seems to budging over the big issue of health care. The union wants to continue its free ride for workers. SEPTA wants union members to start making sizable contributions.

If history repeats itself, we're facing a long strike. The last one, in 1998, went for 40 days during the peak summer tourism season. This time, a transit strike could hit during the pre-Christmas shopping season.

We've already made our position known: Given SEPTA's bailout from the commonwealth, the union members have to start picking up some of the system's burgeoning health-care costs. Otherwise, Gov. Rendell will have to engineer another rescue on the backs of taxpayers.

But why wait for Rendell to get involved? If they aren't already, the governor, Mayor Street and others should be talking sense to the union. Eventually this mess will land on their desks anyway.
Daily News

25 October - Daily News - SEPTA, TWU talk face-to-face

With only a week left to derail a Halloween transit strike that would paralyze the city, SEPTA and its largest union - deadlocked for months on the issue of who will pay for workers' health care - moved into rented hotel meeting rooms yesterday for face-to-face talks.

"We met with SEPTA this afternoon for about 15 minutes," said Bob Bedard, spokesman for Transport Workers Union Local 234, last night, "after which we gave them our comprehensive, nine-page, A-to-Z, soup-to-nuts proposal.

"At this point the ball is in their court," Bedard said. "They could sign it tonight and we could put this thing to bed."

Although the two sides met for a second time last night at the Crowne Plaza on Market Street near 18th, there was no agreement, and bargaining was to continue this afternoon.

Earlier yesterday, SEPTA General Manager Faye Moore grimly unveiled the transit agency's service interruption plans, saying, "One of these days, I'm going to call one of these [press conferences] and we'll be discussing good news - but today is not that day."

Hopefully, one of these days, a Fearless Leader press conference will include the words "I resign."

SEPTA negotiators also met yesterday with United Transportation Union (UTU) Local 1594, which represents 320 bus and trolley operators on 25 lines in Delaware, Chester and Montgomery counties, but union president Ron Koran said last night there was no progress to report.

Paying for health-care benefits is the main sticking point in those negotiations, too.

SEPTA GM Moore said she wanted to dispel the rumor that SEPTA would profit from a strike because it would continue to get state funds without the expense of running a transit system.

Moore said that because half of SEPTA's operating budget comes from the farebox, the agency does not profit from a strike. "If we are lucky, we break even," she said. "That's the best we can hope for."
Daily News

Of course, SEPTA isn't lucky...

25 October - Inquirer - SEPTA union launches TV ads to gain rider support

SEPTA's largest union, likening its relations with management to a marriage gone bad, today ramped up its custody fight for the hearts and minds of area transit riders.

Transport Workers Union Local 234 today began airing the first of about 100 television commercials to run this week on local stations.

The spots, part of a $70,000 media buy, cast SEPTA "bosses" as heavies who shortchange riders with management gaffes and workers with broken promises. They urge riders to flood SEPTA headquarters with phone calls demanding a fair contract for workers.

"SEPTA is cheating on us, and we won't have it," TWU spokesman Bob Bedard declared at a morning news conference called to preview the ads. "The next few days, we'll have the opportunity to talk with a marriage counselor and try to get things resolved."

Failing that, Bedard warned, "there'll be an ugly divorce."

Has there ever been a pretty divorce? Perhaps if the unions would come up with better proposals as opposed to one-liners, we might not be at this point today...

To be continued...

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