Philly commuters relieved but angry as strike ends

AP News
|
Posted: Nov 09, 2009 5:38 PM

Life began returning to normal Monday for commuters who spent the previous work week frazzled from a public transit strike, and many expressed relief that buses and trains were running again but remained angry about the transit workers' walkout.

"Regular working people, poor people, that's who they hurt. Senior citizens like me who couldn't get to the doctor, that's who they hurt," said Mattie Herman, 69, as she waited for a bus to a doctor's appointment she had to cancel last week. "It never had to come to that."

A preliminary deal announced late Friday fell apart Saturday over the union's demand for an independent audit of the pension fund and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority's desire for permission to reopen the contract if national health care overhaul were to increase costs.

On Monday, Gov. Ed Rendell, who helped lead negotiations, said the audit "became a non-issue" because the union's two representatives on the pension fund's advisory board could call for an audit. The governor said the health care cost issue had been resolved, and additional dental benefits had been included in the package.

The pact described early Monday at a news conference announcing the agreement appeared very similar to the one rejected on Saturday.

"It's all egos and politics _ who gets to be the big dog," said city resident Mikal Branch, 33, before descending the stairs to the Market-Frankford subway line. "It doesn't sound like there's any difference between what (the union) rejected on Saturday what they OK'd on Sunday. What does that tell you?"

Neither SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney nor Transport Workers Local 234 spokesman Bob Wolper responded to calls Monday from The Associated Press seeking additional details of the final contract.

After the collapse of Friday's agreement, Rendell threatened to withdraw nearly $7 million in state funds to pay for bonuses of $1,250 per worker. The TWU, which represents 5,100 drivers, operators and mechanics, preserved the bonuses by signing the pact.

"When Rendell said he was going to take back that $7 million, then the tune changed pretty quick," Branch said. "All of a sudden, that contract started looking a whole lot better."

As in the earlier agreement, the five-year contract also calls for a 2.5 percent raise in the second year and a 3 percent raise in each of the final three years, and it increases workers' contributions to the pension fund from 2 percent to 3 percent.

As the city approaches negotiations with two large municipal unions, Mayor Michael Nutter said the effects of the recession remain a key issue. Revenues from the city wage tax continue to decline in the current fiscal year and the local unemployment rate has risen to 11.1 percent, he said.

"It's not like city's position has gotten better; it's actually gotten worse," Nutter said.

The city is seeking union contract savings of $25 million annually over the next five years, primarily in health, welfare and pension costs.

___

Associated Press writer Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia contributed to this report.