The head of the union representing 5,000 SEPTA employees says there will be no more talks until the transit agency provides critical financial information affecting the negotiations.
“We haven’t taken a strike authorization vote – yet,” said Willie Brown, president of Transit Workers Union 234, at a 2 p.m. conference call with reporters. “But we can — and we can do so on very short notice.” (See the full prepared statement below.)
“We will notify you before we go on strike,” he said. “A strike is not in our immediate future. … If we go out on strike, it will be absolutely, positively our last option.”
The two sides have agreed to a two-year term for the contract, Brown confirmed, and most of the issues have been resolved. But he said he won't schedule further negotiations until SEPTA provides "information regarding pensions, wages, medical costs, discipline, and other areas."
Why? Because SEPTA is asking workers to contribute an additional 1 percent of their wages to health insurance costs. Brown says he wants to make sure the numbers add up. And there are concerns about the disparity between pensions owed to SEPTA's workers and the agency's management.
Without that information, Brown said: "There's no reason to schedule talks. We can't go any further." TWU has been seeking the financial information since February, he said.
Brown said a bus driver at the top end of the experience range can contribute just under $2,000 a year to his or her pension, the same as SEPTA's managers. But in retirement, the same driver can pull just $35,000 a year from the pension, while the manager call pull nearly three times as much.
How is that possible?" a reporter asked.
"That's what we're asking," Brown said.
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Pres. W. Brown Remarks for Tuesday, April 8, 2014 2:p.m. TWU 234 Telephone News Conference…
Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us by phone today. I asked Jamie to invite you on this call because there is a lot of disinformation coming out of SEPTA.
I want to set the record straight.
Let me make a few quick points and then we can throw it open for questions.
First, let me say that we made real progress last week. The agreement to do a two-year contract was a positive development. But, over the weekend and into this week, we have hit roadblocks that are not helpful.
Yesterday, most of you or perhaps all of you, saw the letter that we sent over to management about information requests that haven’t been met. This is no small thing. We have not received the demographic and claims information we need from SEPTA.
This material is especially important when it comes to medical benefits. SEPTA is for the most part self-insured. They are the only ones in possession of key data. We need to see the numbers to figure out whether their demand for a 1 percent charge to our members makes any sense and whether cost savings can be accomplished in other ways. Their facts keep changing – they’re not SEPTA – they’re DECEPTIVE. When we were talking about a 5-year deal they told us that healthcare contributions were not an issue in years one and two of a new agreement. So what changed just since last week?
This is why, once again, yesterday, we demanded demographic and claims data that we asked for previously and they’re required to give. We asked for this information in February, March and this month – so far we haven’t seen it.
No negotiations will be scheduled until we get information regarding pensions, wages, medical costs, discipline, and other areas. However, I do want to note that the surveillance camera issue -- that has been widely reported in the media -- isn’t really an issue –removing the cameras is not on the table, or in dispute, and never has been.
What’s with SEPTA’s negotiators?
SEPTA management is not negotiating in good faith. In one breath they say “last and final” offer, in the next they say they’re “ready to negotiate.” Which is it? It can’t be both. However, it gives you in the media a sense of how they talk out of both sides of their mouth.
Let’s clarify where we are in terms of wages. I want to be very clear. SEPTA has tried to confuse all of you. I’ll fill in the details during the question session.
The biggest problem is the pension issue. [Details during questions]
We have other issues still on the table related to contract enforcement, for example, and parity between different work groups for doing the same work. I can explain some of that when we get to questions.
I know all of you and your readers want to know if we’re going on strike and if so – when. Let me just say that a strike is a last resort. My goal is to get a contract.
We haven’t taken a strike authorization vote – yet. But we can -- and we can do so on very short notice. This is especially true now since all of our contracts have expired.
Let’s now take questions…