Transit worker victory in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA — Buses, subways and trolleys began running again here early Monday morning Nov. 7 as members of Transportation Workers Union Local 234 and United Transportation Union Local 1594 returned to work with a new four-year contract. The weeklong strike by 5,300 Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority workers forced the agency to back off its demand that the transit workers pay 5 percent co-pays on their health insurance premiums.

The health care issue was a sticking point because SEPTA workers had accepted lower pay raises in previous years in return for maintaining their health care benefits.

The new contract provides for 3-percent pay increases in each of its four years. Workers will contribute 1 percent of their pay for up to 40 hours each week toward their health care plan. Considering that SEPTA originally demanded that its workers pay 20 percent of the cost of their health care, the settlement represents a significant victory for the unions.

The settlement came when Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) entered the negotiations, agreed to advance promised state funds to the agency and essentially told SEPTA management that they would have to give ground on the health care issue. SEPTA managers also agreed for the first time to contribute towards their own health plans.

Observers say the agreement will give the agency and the governor time to work toward getting the Republican-led state Legislature to earmark adequate funding for public transportation throughout the state.