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Philadelphia transit talks break down

Gov. Rendell blames the union's demand for an audit to keep pension funds secure and its rejection of new negotiations if healthcare reform passes. The union says members won't return to work Monday.

November 08, 2009|Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — Negotiations aimed at ending a transit strike in Philadelphia broke off Saturday night with Pennsylvania's governor calling on the union to let its members vote on the transit authority's offer.

"In my 32 years in government, I have never been more disappointed by a negotiation than I am right now tonight," Gov. Edward G. Rendell told reporters Saturday evening.

Union President Willie Brown said the union had agreed only on proposed wages in a contract presented by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. Brown said the union wanted an independent audit for assurance on the security of its pension funds.

"We will not be back to work Monday morning," Brown said.

Rendell, who has been brokering the talks, announced a tentative agreement Friday night to end the walkout that began Tuesday, but he said that the union had raised as many as nine new issues on Saturday. He said that the talks finally broke down over the union's insistence on being able to audit the pension fund and on the possible effect of national health insurance overhaul plan.

Brown said the union will not agree to consider reopening negotiations if a healthcare overhaul plan is passed. The transit agency has asked for such an agreement.

Transport Workers Union Local 234, Philadelphia's largest, represents about 5,000 bus drivers, subway and trolley operators and mechanics who walked off the job early Tuesday over pension benefits.

The union had threatened to strike while the World Series was in town last weekend, but negotiators continued bargaining after Rendell threatened "significant consequences" if that happened. The union went on strike hours after the series between the Phillies and Yankees shifted back to New York.

The transportation authority's regional railroad is still running because those workers are represented by a different union, but that system experienced problems of its own last week.

A rail car caught fire Wednesday as it headed downtown, causing delays and confusion but no serious injuries. On Thursday, a packed commuter train struck and killed a rail worker during the morning rush. Hundreds of riders were stranded as lines were shut down for hours.

Neither accident was related to increased volume linked to the strike, the transit agency said.

No new contract talks have been scheduled.

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