Federal mediators OK extra time for Pennsylvania transit agency, unions to settle pay dispute

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WASHINGTON — Federal mediators urged the Philadelphia-area transit authority and two of its unions Monday to continue working to reach a settlement in a salary dispute that led earlier to a one-day transit strike, according to the agency.

The National Mediation Board held a closed-door hearing aimed at getting an update on contract talks and assessing why the two sides have not yet reached agreement.

Andrew Busch, a spokesman for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, said the two sides met with the board for a little over an hour. While they had not reached resolution, both sides expressed hope they would be able to reach a settlement with additional time. "There's a sense of urgency on both sides to get this done," Busch said.

A spokesman for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen did not immediately return a request for comment. Stephen Bruno, vice president of the union, said last week that he hoped the two sides would be able to continue negotiating and resolve differences by early September.

SEPTA has been in federally supervised mediation with that union as well as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers since 2010. Engineers are seeking raises of at least 14.5 percent over five years, about 3 percentage points more than SEPTA has offered.

An emergency board appointed by President Barack Obama recommended last month that engineers get wage increases similar to other unions that have contracts with SEPTA, or $33.09 hourly, equivalent to the 11.5 percent raise that bus drivers and subway operators have gotten over five years.

That recommendation has not yet produced a settlement, prompting Monday's hearing.

About 400 SEPTA workers walked off the job one Saturday in June to protest the wages, shutting down rail lines that carry about 60,000 passengers each weekday between Philadelphia and its suburbs in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Buses, subways and trolleys continued to operate.

The workers were required to return after Obama created the emergency board. If the recommendations do not lead to a deal by mid-October, a second emergency board can be requested.

The last SEPTA regional rail strike, in 1983, lasted more than three months.


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