Talks continue as SEPTA union postpones action

Mayor Jim Kenney shared his condolences during Thursday's press briefing.
PHOTO: JACK TOMCZUK

A union representing SEPTA employees decided not to initiate a possible work stoppage after Mayor Jim Kenney stepped in and asked for more time for negotiations.

Transport Workers Union Local 234 had said it would take a “job action” Thursday if SEPTA did not meet its list of coronavirus-related demands, and the agency had warned that bus service could be suspended.

Local 234 leaders called off the action, the details of which had never been explained, but said it would do something in the near future if SEPTA doesn’t improve safety conditions for workers.

“As a sign of good faith, we are postponing our job action, but this is not as SEPTA management said in a message this evening ‘a cancellation,’” union president Willie Brown said in a statement. “If there is no improvement, we will very shortly be taking a job action.”

Kenney praised Brown during his daily briefing and said transit employees as just as essential as other front line workers.

“We’ve had a really good conversation,” Kenney said. “We’re trying to work through the issues. I don’t think they want to go on strike or want to take a job action, but we have to work hard over the weekend to resolve those issues so his members are comfortable.”

Philadelphia reported 583 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, though officials said the number was inflated by the reclassification of some cases from days ago.

There were 20 additional deaths, including an employee who worked as a social services manager in the city’s jail system. City leaders declined to release the person’s name or further details.

“We are unsure where and how the employee contracted the virus, but we will continue to do all we can to protect the other city employees who are continuing to show up for work each day and put their own health and safety at risk,” Kenney said.

The city’s jails have become a hot spot for the virus, and, as of Thursday, 59 inmates were currently battling the virus, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.

Since the beginning of the epidemic, 11,226 Philadelphians have contracted COVID-19 and 443 have died.

Officials on Thursday reacted to Gov. Tom Wolf’s color-coded plan for reopening, which he released a day prior. The approach incorporates red, yellow and green phases, which signify the easing of virus-related restrictions.

Right now, the entire state is in red, but Wolf’s administration plans to begin moving some areas in north-central and northwest Pennsylvania to the yellow zone on May 8. The stay-at-home order would be lifted for those counties and some would be allowed to return to work.

“We are specifically working through how Philadelphia and our region can move forward under this framework,” Kenney said. “With the southeastern part of the state facing the greatest impact, it is clear a regional approach to recovery is vital.”

Farley said the city is “weeks away” from moving into the yellow phase and would have to register 50 cases or less a day before venturing into the green zone.

He said he agreed with state experts that expanded testing and contact tracing is very important to reopening. However, Philadelphia, he said, is going to have a different timeline than the rest of Pennsylvania.

“We do think that there’s more detail that needs to be put in as far as what exactly is allowed in a yellow zone and what’s allowed in a green zone,” Farley added.

New COVID-19 testing sites are on the way. Officials announced Thursday that 10 Federally Qualified Health Centers are or soon will be working with the city on testing. Most were already testing their patients, but they will now be opening up to the public.

Eight city-run health centers are among the sites now offering testing. People interested in making an appointment can call 215-685-2933.

In addition, Kenney said the city will be opening testing locations in Kensington and Hunting Park next week or in early May. More details on those sites are expected in the coming days.

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