SEPTA, Union Pointing Fingers at One Another Over Contract Impasse

SEPTA GM Pat Deon and TWU Local 234 president Willie Brown have differing opinions on who's at fault.

Transit Workers Union Local 234 Headquarters

Photo | Dan McQuade

We’ve apparently entered the point of the SEPTA strike where the sides fight with each other in press releases to the media. Dutifully, we bring you these remarks.

On Wednesday night, SEPTA sent out a release titled “SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. Deon Calls for TWU Local 234 to Engage in Good Faith Negotiations.” In the statement, Deon said the union was unfairly hurting the citizens of Philadelphia: “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.”

Deon said SEPTA had been bargaining in good faith and adopted an entirely new pension plan at the request of Transit Workers Union Local 234. He said SEPTA offered to remove current compensation cap on pensions and enhance benefits by 8 percent. Deon also said SEPTA also offered wage increases, “modest” health care changes — in five years, the cost of the “Cadillac” health care plan would go from $10 a week to $41 — and responded to operational concerns SEPTA workers had.

The union, as you might’ve guessed, has a different opinion.

Local 234 sent out a release on Thursday headlined “Statement by Willie Brown, President of TWU Local 234 Response to Remarks by SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. Deon on ‘Good Faith Negotiations’” — and it rips into Deon’s statement.

“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,’” Brown wrote. “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.’”

Brown accused Deon of misrepresenting the pension issue, calling him “deceptive.” He referenced a change to management (non-union) pensions the SEPTA board approved in June 2016. One key sticking point for the union during this SEPTA strike is the difference between management and union pensions.

In his letter, Deon asked the SEPTA union to agree to suspend the strike for Election Day. Brown fired back: “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,” he wrote. “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.”

The SEPTA strike is now in its third day. The dueling press releases may continue. Negotiations, too, we hope.