The newly elected leader of Philadelphia's bus drivers and other transit workers, the man who led the union in a controversial six-day strike in 2009, said he hopes to have a new contract with SEPTA by March, when the current pact expires.
Willie Brown, who will resume the presidency of Transport Workers Union Local 234 on Oct. 14, said it would be "irresponsible" for him to outline specific economic goals before meeting with SEPTA negotiators next month.
"I'd hope to have a contract by March. . . . I want respect for my membership and a fair deal for my membership," Brown said Thursday in a phone conversation with reporters from Las Vegas, where he is attending the union's national convention.
Brown, who lost his bid for reelection in 2010 to John Johnson Jr., defeated Johnson in voting last week to regain the presidency of the Local 234. The TWU is the largest of the 17 unions that represent SEPTA workers, and its contract typically sets the pattern for negotiations with the other unions.
The current contract expires March 14, 2014.
In 2009, the TWU threatened to strike as the World Series was being played in Philadelphia, but did not actually go out until 3 a.m. on Nov. 3, after the Series left town.
The surprise predawn walkout left thousands of commuters in the lurch, drawing fire from Mayor Nutter and then-Gov. Ed Rendell.
"I understand I'm the most hated man in Philadelphia right now," Brown said at the time. "I have no problem with that."
The strike by the 5,200 bus drivers, subway and trolley operators, mechanics, and cashiers ended after Rendell and Rep. Robert Brady (D., Phila.) intervened.
The five-year contract provided a $1,250 "signing bonus" to each member and raises of 2.5 percent in the second year and 3 percent in each of the next three years.
New bus drivers now get $32,900 a year, and drivers with four or more years' experience are paid $54,000 a year.
Although he declined Thursday to discuss economic demands for the next contract, Brown said he wanted changes in work rules and conditions, including a change in the mirrors on SEPTA buses.
Drivers have long complained that the mirrors on many buses are a hazard because they can obscure a driver's vision when making a turn.
SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said Thursday, "We look forward to sitting down with the new president and his team to negotiate a contract that's fair to all parties -- our employees, riders, and the taxpayers."
Copyright 2013 - The Philadelphia Inquirer