Philadelphia transit workers ratify new contract, averting potential strike on subway, buses

PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia transit workers have voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new two-year contract, averting a potential strike that could have halted city subways, buses and trolleys.

Members of the Transport Workers Union Local 234’s three bargaining units voted in favour of the proposed contracts with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority on Friday.

The union represents about 5,000 bus drivers, subway and trolley operators, cashiers, and mechanics.

The contract includes 5 per cent wage increases over two years — a 2 per cent increase next month and a 3 per cent increase in December 2015 — but puts off long-term decisions on thorny pension and health care issues.

Union members who retire in the next two years will get a one-time pension bonus of $175 for each year of service, and retiring workers will also get an increase in dental benefits offered to eligible family members.

Union president Willie Brown, who had threatened a walkout several times and issued a strike notice for Monday if the pact had been rejected, said negotiators will try for a more permanent solution to outstanding issues when negotiations begin on the next contract. This contract expires at the end of 2016.

“The contract we are voting on now is a very good interim agreement that allows our members to make gains and does not inconvenience the public. We’re not done yet,” he told the Philadelphia Daily News.

SEPTA, the nation’s sixth-largest transit operator, serves Philadelphia and its surrounding counties and has annual ridership of about 337 million. Employee benefits and wages account for about 70 per cent of SEPTA’s $1.3 billion operating budget this year. The average annual salary for a bus operator, including overtime, is about $65,000, according to the agency.