As the city's transit strike instigated another day of traffic gridlock, both sides of the contract dispute punched and counterpunched with no indication that an agreement will soon be reached.
SEPTA management issued a news release late Wednesday night blaming the union, stating that every time their negotiators thought progress was being made to end the strike, the union "has brought a halt to negotiations."
The union shot back that SEPTA is to blame for the walk-out.
“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,’” TWU Local 234 president Willie Brown complained in a news release issued just before noon Thursday.
“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," he continued. "When the strike was called they didn’t utter a word for the first 16 hours.”
Brown said if the union had accepted SEPTA's terms prior to the strike deadline its members "would have taken home less in their paychecks next year than they earn today."
Deon countered that "reasonable wage increases" are on the bargaining table. "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," he said.
Deon asked union to suspend their strike on Nov. 8 as the nation chooses between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
“SEPTA requests that TWU leadership assure the citizens of the Philadelphia region that, if necessary, they will suspend their strike for Election Day,” he said. “The TWU leadership … 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.”
A PlanPhilly reporter wrote that they were in the room with union reps and Congressman Bob Brady, who were discussing contract issues that reportedly hinge on workers’ pension plans, when the statement was issued.
“I don’t know why he’s doing that,” was Brady’s response to Deon’s statement being released, PlanPhilly reported.
Below, read Deon’s full statement and Brown’s full statement.
SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. Deon, 10:41 p.m., Nov. 2
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.
TWU Local 234 president Willie Brown, 11:38 a.m., Nov. 3
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.