Commuters suffering from 3rd day of SEPTA strike

- Tensions have risen as SEPTA and the Transportation Workers Union continue to work on negotiating a new contract and bring an end to the strike.

On Thursday, traffic was at a gridlock in and around Philadelphia, after talks between the two sides broke down overnight. The city's transit agency urged the union representing about 4,700 striking workers to engage in good-faith negotiations to bring an end to the walkout.

Regional rail lines were experiencing delays as a result of increased demand caused by the idling of city buses, trolleys and subways. One good thing coming out of this a lot of people telling FOX 29's Chris O'Connell they're getting a lot more exercise over these past few days.  Everyone is trying to stay creative and trying to keep calm.

SEPTA said in a statement late Wednesday that a strike should be "an option of last resort," and when you have one, there needs to be added urgency to "reach an agreement and get back to work."

Board Chairman Pasquale T. Deon Sr. of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority said on several occasions this week, SEPTA negotiators believed progress was being made, but Deon said the union "brought a halt to negotiations."

Thursday morning, TWU Local 234’s president Willie Brown’s responded, saying:

“Pat Deon must have dusted off a news release from some other contract negotiation if he claims SEPTA “has bargained in good faith with the union, presented fair offers, and quickly and thoughtfully responded to all proposals.” Really. Who is he kidding? Where has he been? SEPTA’s bargaining team and high-priced outside lawyers stonewalled contract talks for months prior to the strike. When the strike was called they didn’t utter a word for the first 16 hours.

The strike began at 12:01am Tuesday, shutting down buses, trolleys and subways that provide about 900,000 rides a day. A current cap on union pension benefits and the amount of time off provided to operators between shifts were among the issues on the table.

SEPTA has said if no agreement is reached before Election Day on Tuesday, it would seek an injunction to force the restoration of service that day.

Democratic city leaders working to help end the contract impasse expressed fears of it lasting that long, leaving some residents with little time to vote Nov. 8.

In its statement Wednesday night, SEPTA asked the union to assure residents that, if necessary, they will suspend the strike on Election day if no agreement is reached.

The union has said it would oppose any effort to force its employees back to work without a new contract in hand.

Schools have also been affected, since SEPTA provides rides for nearly 60,000 public, private and charter school students. 

#TBT and NO DEAL YET....Morning Fog & Afternoon Rain will be game changer for SEPTA STRIKE . Grab ur coffee and let's check the JAM CAMS pic.twitter.com/zexBoFqIIR

— Bob Kelly (@bobkellytraffic) November 3, 2016

The walkout, the ninth since 1975 by the city transit union, is the first since a 2009 strike that lasted six days.

 

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Wednesday night, SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. Deon Sr. released this statement calling on TWU Local 234 to engage in good-faith negotiations:

 

"After two days, it is clear that the TWU Local 234 strike is causing severe hardship for residents throughout the City of Philadelphia and the region. A strike should be an option of last resort – and once you go out, there needs to be added urgency to reach an agreement and get back to work.

On several occasions this week, SEPTA negotiators believed progress toward a deal had been made. However, at each of those seemingly positive turns, TWU Local 234 has brought a halt to negotiations.

At the direction of the SEPTA Board, the Authority has addressed these negotiations with the utmost urgency from the start. SEPTA’s negotiating team has bargained in good faith with the union, presented fair offers, and quickly and thoughtfully responded to all proposals.

On the union’s central issue of pension reform, for example, we adopted an entirely new plan – at the Union’s request – that would increase the benefits for TWU members. SEPTA’s offer also provides wage increases, and maintains comprehensive and competitive health care coverage while addressing rising costs. We have also responded to operational and non-economic issues raised by the union.

Here are the specifics on economics:

- SEPTA responded to the Union’s number one priority of pension benefits by offering to remove the current compensation cap and enhance the pension benefit by 8 percent. This was a huge move by SEPTA and we have proposed this enhancement in a fiscally responsible manner.

- Moreover, we have offered reasonable wage increases with our proposal. Under our proposal, the average TWU employee’s annual earnings would increase from $68,100 to $76,200 over the 5 years of our proposal.

- On health care, TWU members currently contribute an average of only $10 per week for a Cadillac health care plan. Our proposals on the table make modest health care changes, including incremental health care contribution increases that at most would require TWU members to contribute $41 per week by the 5th year of the contract. When the average family is paying $95 or more a week for coverage in the Philadelphia region, citizens across the Delaware Valley would love to have such a health care plan.

Our proposals provide significant financial benefits to the Union for years to come. I ask the TWU leadership to meaningfully engage in negotiations without delay. Too much is at stake for either side to fail to fully engage in the negotiating process. SEPTA negotiators have been working tirelessly to get a deal done, and we’re asking TWU leadership to do the same – for the sake of their members, and the people who rely on them every day to safely get them where they need to go.

Further, SEPTA requests that TWU leadership assure the citizens of the Philadelphia region that, if necessary, they will suspend their strike for Election Day. We are hopeful that constructive negotiations will yield a tentative agreement in the near future. The TWU leadership, however, should assure the public that if an agreement has not been reached, it will suspend the strike on Election Day to help ensure our citizens may exercise their right to vote. If TWU does not provide that assurance, SEPTA will seek to enjoin this strike.

SEPTA is committed to continuing bargaining in good faith and obtaining an agreement with the Union."

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TWU Local 234’s president Willie Brown’s response:

“Pat Deon must have dusted off a news release from some other contract negotiation if he claims SEPTA “has bargained in good faith with the union, presented fair offers, and quickly and thoughtfully responded to all proposals.” Really. Who is he kidding? Where has he been? SEPTA’s bargaining team and high-priced outside lawyers stonewalled contract talks for months prior to the strike. When the strike was called they didn’t utter a word for the first 16 hours.

Make no mistake, if we had accepted their terms prior to the strike deadline our members would have taken home less in their paychecks next year than they earn today.

TWU 234 has been prepared to bargain day and night. We won’t apologize for trying to maintain quality affordable healthcare for our members and their families. We think our members deserve to have adequate time to go to the bathroom. We find it absurd that simple no-cost reforms that would reduce fatigue, allow our members adequate rest, and likely reduce accidents can be blocked because they want to maintain “flexibility.”

Pat Deon likes to talk about the pension issue, but he has been deceptive in the way he has described his actions to the elected leaders who appointed him and to the riding public. Instead of correcting abuses, as Deon and SEPTA promised two years ago, we caught him with his hand in the cookie jar. In a slap in the face to the legislators in Harrisburg who fought for transportation funding, he was responsible for secretly giving thousands of additional dollars in pension benefits to managers on top of their two generous pension plans they currently receive. He did this at a time when SEPTA had pledged a more equitable approach to the way retirement benefits were awarded.

Despite the SEPTA Board Chairman’s rhetoric, and thanks to the efforts of concerned elected leaders, along with the help of a state mediator, progress was made in the past 36 hours. More needs to be done. We’ve been engaged in give and take. But Deon’s idea of bargaining where he tells the public half-truths about what’s on the table while telling the union to take it or leave it won’t get us across the finish line.

Also not helpful is asking us to suspend the strike for Election Day. Rather than talking about next week, SEPTA and its Board Chairman should stop their games and work with us to get a settlement now.”

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Also, from PFT President Jerry Jordan: “The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers stands in full solidarity with the men and women of Transport Workers Union 234 as they strike for better financial and working conditions for SEPTA workers. We hope TWU and SEPTA management will continue to talk, and arrive quickly at a new contract.

"We support these workers in their fight for fair compensation and pension packages. More importantly, as citizens of Philadelphia, we applaud their efforts to win safety provisions that will not only benefit SEPTA workers, but the thousands of commuters who rely on SEPTA every day."

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