SEPTA workers reach contract agreement days before deadline

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Members of Philadelphia’s largest transit workers union reached a tentative contract agreement early Friday, averting a possible strike that threatened to bring elevated trains, buses and trolleys to a halt and leave thousands of children and educators without a way to get to school next week.

The current contract between the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and the 5,000-member Transport Workers Union Local 234 was set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Monday. The tentative agreement announced by the union includes a two-year contract with a pay increase, a pandemic payment and parental leave for workers.

“Our members are essential workers who move Philadelphia and who have risked their lives putting their own families at risk during this pandemic,” Willie Brown, Local 234 president, said in a written statement praising Friday’s agreement.

Members are scheduled to vote to ratify the contract next Friday.

The union had voted Sunday to authorize a worker walkout if an agreement couldn’t be reached. The union represents bus, trolley and elevated train operators as well as mechanics and other staff.

Union leadership had asked for a four-year contract with annual wage increases and a pandemic payment to compensate SEPTA workers that had served on the front lines of the pandemic, keeping public transportation moving for other essential workers. Nearly 800 members contracted COVID-19 and 11 TWU members died from COVID-19 or related complications, union leaders said.

Union members had noted that families of New York’s essential transit workers who died from COVID-19 received $500,000 in survivor benefit payouts, unlike families of transit workers in Philadelphia, who got no payout.

The tentative contract includes a 3% wage increase each year, and a pandemic hazard payment of $1 per each hour worked between March 15, 2020 and March 15, 2021 of up to $2,200 per worker.

“We are pleased to reach an agreement with union leadership on a contract that is fair to our employees and financially responsible for SEPTA,” SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. Deon Sr. said in an emailed statement. “I look forward to the SEPTA Board’s vote on the contract at its next meeting.”

SEPTA officials had asked for a two-year contract, or that pay increases in a four-year contract be contingent on the transit authority’s ability to pay them. Authority leaders have said that it is losing nearly $1 million a day while ridership rebounds from the lockdowns and the pandemic.

School District of Philadelphia officials announced Thursday that they would not move students and educators to virtual learning next week under the threat of a strike. The district had raised the possibility after the union’s strike authorization vote.

Close to half of the district’s more than 120,000 public school students and thousands of teachers rely on public transportation to get to school, and many were left wondering what Monday might bring.

City officials had also urged SEPTA and union officials to reach an agreement before Tuesday’s general election to avoid any effect a strike might have on in-person voting.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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