Engineers, SEPTA Reach Agreement

“This agreement keeps the trains rolling in Philadelphia.”

Septa regional rail train

The union that represents SEPTA’s rail engineers says it has tentatively agreed to a five-year contract with the transit agency — averting a strike — but that some outstanding issues still remain.

Here’s the press release issued this afternoon by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, announcing a 13.32 percent raise for the rail workers:

After 5 Years of Talks, Locomotive Engineers Reach Agreement with SEPTA — on Day When Strike Could Have Idled Trains

New Contract Delivers 13.32% Raise to Rail Workers

Union Will Continue to Push for Safety Improvements Through Federal Regulators Rather than Negotiations with SEPTA

PHILADELPHIA – The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen – Division 71, representing 200 rail engineers at SEPTA, announced today a tentative agreement for a new 5-year contract with the transit agency that will cover workers through July 2015.

“This agreement keeps the trains rolling in Philadelphia,” said Steve Bruno, National Vice President of BLET, a division of the Teamsters union. “SEPTA has finally come to terms with the recommendations of the Presidential Emergency Board. It is unfortunate that SEPTA’s intransigence has held this settlement up for far too long. The union has offered and management has accepted a compromise on economic issues to make this deal work. However, we still have critical safety concerns related to fatigue caused by long hours and inadequate training for new engineers. We will now seek resolution through federal regulators and public hearings rather than through collective bargaining with SEPTA.”

Today’s tentative agreement, which includes a 13.32 percent pay raise, comes after five years of negotiations. Seeking to reach a settlement and avoid further delays, BLET members went on a one-day strike in June and then returned to work following appointment of a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB). The PEB’s intervention suspended the strike and started a 120-day clock that ended at 12:01 a.m. this morning. Last week, SEPTA asked for an additional automatic one-time 120-day extension under the rules of the federal Railway Labor Act.

“We think it’s important to put this proposed pay raise before our members as soon as possible, said Bruno.” The tentative agreement accepts management’s proposal for the effective date of a 2014 pay raise, while implementing the union’s suggestion that next year’s increases become effective in April 2015.

In the past, many engineers have left SEPTA for higher paying jobs at Amtrak, other northeast corridor commuter and freight railroads. SEPTA’s engineers are much in demand in the nation’s thriving rail industry. They hold national certification to operate locomotives, and unlike most public sector workers have pension portability.

“Safety has been a growing concern,” said Bruno and recent close call events have brought safety issues to a critical point. “SEPTA has stonewalled us on important safety concerns and the Presidential Emergency Board members’ expertise is typically related to economic matters and not safety considerations. The union will not compromise on the public’s safety. We will now pursue these concerns with federal regulators.

Bruno added, “The good news is SEPTA’s ridership is continuing to grow, the bad news is that SEPTA can’t handle success. Their shortsighted management practices have resulted in six-day a week work schedules, many locomotive engineers are on duty for 14 hours every day, and interrupted rest also is a problem. We believe SEPTA’s practices are not consistent and in some cases out of compliance with federal safety regulations on operator scheduling and fatigue. We’re going to pursue these issues aggressively before the Federal Railroad Administration, because nothing is more important to locomotive engineers than the safety of our passengers.”

In a statement Dennis R. Pierce, National President of the BLET, congratulated the Philadelphia negotiating team for their perseverance and singled out Steve Bruno and General Chairman Rich Dixon for bringing these difficult negotiations to a close. Pierce lamented that critical safety issues still remain to be addressed, “Our Brothers and Sisters at SEPTA deserve the chance to vote on a contract that recognizes their commitment to safety and the value of their professional skills as locomotive engineers.”

The terms and conditions of the tentative agreement announced today will be presented to members of BLET –Division 71 for a ratification vote. Results of the ratification vote will be announced within the next 30 days.

More details to come.