Blame game begins over SEPTA strike

PHILADELPHIA. A day after calling for a 3 a.m. strike, the president of SEPTA’s largest union says his biggest problem is not pensions, wages or even picking rights, but what he perceives as Mayor Michael Nutter trying to set a precedent for negotiations with city workers.

Transport Workers Union Local 234 President Willie Brown said negotiations broke down early yesterday morning after SEPTA negotiators refused to give the union more information at Nutter’s request.

“If they call and wanna go back, I’ll go back. I will not go back to the table with Michael Nutter,” said Brown. “He was there moreso to make sure the contract wasn’t too lucrative on his behalf.”

Nutter criticized union leadership and strongly denied the allegations, saying “the city contract negotiations are our negotiations and the SEPTA contract negotiations are their negotiations.”

“I think SEPTA is looking at the same reality that the city is looking at, which is we’re in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression,” he said. “No one should be expecting near term raises pretty much anywhere because most folks are just happy to still [have] a job.”

Brown countered by saying that SEPTA was in a better financial position than the city because of an increase in ridership earlier this year and could afford to give more. (SEPTA said last month that its ridership is down so far this year, and its state funding also faces an uncertain future).

Brown also blasted Nutter for his comments to the media once the strike was announced. “Michael Nutter is an immature liar,” he said.

Nutter, along with Gov. Ed Rendell and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, joined the talks last week and helped get things moving, SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said.

He said that SEPTA is “anxious to get this thing done with or without whoever is involved.”

“We just want them to come back to the bargaining table,” he said of the union.

Ballard Spahr, the law firm that represents SEPTA in negotiations, also represents the city in discussions with its four municipal unions. The deal for all four unions expired June 30.

Brown claims he and his negotiators had requested more information on the cost of their proposal Monday night, but that Nutter asked why that information was needed, which stymied progress.

Local 234, which represents more than 5,000 operators and mechanics, has been without a deal since March 15.

The union is asking for a four-year deal with no raise in the first year and 3 percent increases in the last three years. SEPTA has offered a five-year deal with no raise in the first year, 2.5 percent in the second year, and 3 percent in the last three years with a $1,250 signing bonus.

The two sides remain far apart on pensions and picking rights, Brown said.

Wednesday is the second day of the strike, but the first for students who had Tuesday off due to Election Day.

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