PA: Presidential Board Backs SEPTA Management in Labor Dispute

July 15--A panel appointed by President Obama sided with SEPTA management Monday on most of the issues in its long-running labor dispute with Regional Rail engineers and electrical workers.

The presidential emergency board, whose recommendations are not binding, said the rail workers should get the same 11.5 percent raises negotiated in a five-year contract in 2009 by bus drivers and subway operators.

The railroad workers are not entitled to retroactive raises or an additional increase based on a pension boost received by the bus drivers' union, the board said.

Those two issues are at the heart of a dispute that led to a one-day strike last month by 200 engineers represented by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and 215 electrical workers represented by Electrical Workers Local 744. The strike, which followed years of fruitless negotiations, ended June 15 after Obama appointed the emergency board.

But another walkout by the railroad workers could happen early next year if the sides do not agree to accept the board's recommendations or reach some other resolution.

Under the National Railway Labor Act, if the sides remain deadlocked, a second presidential emergency board could be created with a mandatory hearing required before the National Mediation Board.

If those steps fail to produce a settlement, the workers could strike on Feb. 9, 240 days after the creation of the first emergency board on June 14.

Also looming is the possibility of a strike by SEPTA bus drivers, subway operators, and maintenance workers, whose contracts expired in March and April. Negotiations have stalled between SEPTA and Transport Workers Union Local 234, which represents those workers.

In the Regional Rail dispute, the presidential panel said the engineers should get an additional 35 cents an hour to maintain their traditional 10 percent pay differential above conductors' pay.

And the panel said the engineers were entitled to a $270-a-year uniform allowance if the engineers agreed to wear uniforms, which they have not done.

The panel's recommendations would result in an immediate increase of 8.5 percent this year for engineers, to a top pay of $33.09 an hour this year, with a 3 percent increase next year. The engineers' last contract ended in 2010.

Wages for electrical workers would increase immediately by 11.5 percent, to approximately $3 to $29.50 an hour, on average. The electricians' last contract expired in 2009.

All workers would also get a $1,250 "signing bonus," as did the TWU workers, whose contract sets the pattern for all other SEPTA unions.

"We are pleased with the outcome," said SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams on Monday. "We believe this is a good basis for a settlement, if we can get back to the table."

SEPTA "would like to be able to give these employees their deserved wage increases without further delays," Williams said.

Officials for the two unions declined to comment Monday on the presidential board's findings.

pnussbaum@phillynews.com

215-854-4587

@nussbaumpaul

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