No talks scheduled in Philly transit negotiations

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Buses, subways and trolleys were running Monday in the Philadelphia area despite the midnight expiration of a workers contract, and transit agency officials said they were waiting for the union’s response to their final offer.

No bargaining was scheduled for Monday or Tuesday, said Jerri Williams, a spokeswoman for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

Thousands of members of the Transport Workers Union are working without a contract. After negotiations broke off Sunday night, union president Willie Brown said employees would stay on the job “for a while.”

A work stoppage would involve all city transit lines and suburban buses and trolleys. They provide about 900,000 daily trips, including for thousands of public school students.

On Monday, the union sent a letter to SEPTA negotiators reiterating previous requests for data on employee demographics, pension costs and medical claims.

“Indeed, we cannot continue to negotiate over health benefits and other matters currently on the table without first receiving the information we requested,” Brown wrote.

Negotiators have already made detailed presentations to the union on those topics, Williams said. But she added that SEPTA is working to comply with the requests, which encompass a huge amount of highly detailed statistics.

In the meantime, “SEPTA would be happy to discuss any specific request that may allow the parties to move the process forward and resume negotiations,” she said.

The agency said it offered employees a two-year contract with wage increases of 2 percent the first year and 3 percent in the second year, a boost over a previous offer of a 2.75 percent wage increase in the second year. But workers would have to spend an additional 1 percent of their wages on health care premiums under the deal.

Employee wages and benefits account for about 70 percent of SEPTA’s $1.3 billion operating budget this year. The average annual salary for a bus driver, including overtime, is about $65,000.

According to the union, points of contention in bargaining include discipline, use of surveillance cameras, pensions and the effect of the new federal health care law.

The contract with 4,700 employees in SEPTA’s city division, including bus, subway and trolley operators, expired March 15. Contracts with two suburban SEPTA branches expired April 1, and the deal with a third suburban division expired late Sunday. Those three contracts cover about 750 bus drivers, mechanics and trolley and light rail operators.

SEPTA, the nation’s sixth-largest transit operator, has annual ridership of about 337 million.

The transit lines within the city provide about 825,000 passenger trips on an average weekday, while the suburban fleet offers 75,000. Thirteen regional commuter lines would not be affected by a strike.

A 2009 walkout by city transit workers lasted six days.

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