- Associated Press - Monday, April 7, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Transit officials in Philadelphia expect a routine commute Monday, although labor talks hit a snag before a midnight contract deadline.

Transport Workers Union president Willie Brown said that Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority workers would not strike Monday morning, even as transit officials reported that little progress was made during mediated negotiations with the union Sunday.

“A strike is not going to happen right now, so people can go to work and feel comfortable for a while,” Brown said Sunday night. “I will let you know when it comes time for us to go on strike.”

No strike authorization vote had been scheduled as of Sunday night.

A walkout would involve all city transit lines as well as suburban buses and trolleys. They provide about 900,000 daily trips.

SEPTA said it revised its offer Sunday and has offered a two-year contract with wage hikes of 2 percent the first year and 3 percent in the second year. But workers would have to spend an additional 1 percent of their wages on health care premiums under the deal.

“That’s it - we were ready to sign a deal limited to those terms. But the union refused. We urge the union to get back to the table,” SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said in a statement Sunday evening.

The union did not respond to the offer, she said. A union spokesman declined to comment on the status of the talks.

Employee wages and benefits account for about 70 percent of SEPTA’s $1.3 billion operating budget this year.

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.

Brown had been optimistic in recent days that the two sides could reach a deal.

The union had called for binding arbitration on Wednesday, a move that SEPTA opposed. Officials said they don’t want to end up with a contract they can’t afford. The two sides also met Thursday and Friday, and reported making progress.

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

SEPTA, the nation’s sixth-largest transit operator, serves Philadelphia and its surrounding counties and has annual ridership of about 337 million.

The transit lines within the city of Philadelphia provide about 825,000 passenger trips on an average weekday, while the suburban fleet offers 75,000. They include thousands of students who take SEPTA to get to and from city schools. Thirteen regional commuter lines would not be affected by a strike.

A 2009 strike by city transit workers lasted six days.

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