The former head of the transit union at the Port Authority argues in a letter to a local paper that the union should have a seat on the Board of the Authority. Claiming no group has a bigger stake in the success of the Authority, the union therefore deserves board membership. The former leader is apparently in deep denial about the damage the union has done to the Port Authority’s finances and lack of efficiency.
Here is a reasonable proposal. If the union wants a seat on the board, the Legislature should offer to amend the bill now working its way through the Senate that changes the board appointment powers to include a union member-on one condition. In exchange the union will agree to support a bill to eliminate the power of transit workers to strike.
It is unlikely the union will ever agree voluntarily to give up the right to strike since they view the right to strike as a virtual sacrament of the labor movement. Unions struck armament plants during World War II on the grounds that the right to strike was not to be denied for any reason. Almost all states have figured out that strikes by public employees who deliver key, monopoly provided services cannot be allowed. Pennsylvania just cannot seem to grasp that truth.
According to published reports and a news release from the County Executive’s office, there is a tentative deal between the Amalgamated Transit Union and the Port Authority that represents "the first step" to avoiding the service cuts and layoffs scheduled to go into effect September 2nd.
There will be scant details until the contract is voted on, sometime around August 19th. Therefore, any comment as to what is in the contract or what the contract does vis a vis the state putting up money for closing the 2012-13 deficit is speculation.
What can be commented on is how this contract process compares to the 2005 and 2008 contract expirations and negotiations. The last contract was not voted on until December of 2008, some six months after it expired. In 2005 it took until November of that year. If the present contract is approved it will have been a considerably shorter time frame. The 2008 contract also went to fact finding, and that process was not even completed until the end of August 2008.
Going back to January 1, 2006, ATU wages have gone up 3% per year with the exception of 2010, when the increase was 2%. Employees are paying 3% of their wages toward health care coverage. The 2008 contract also truncated employees into various classes based on age and length of service to determine post-retirement health benefits.
The County Executive has stated he will be the driver of the bus, so to speak, on the next PAT contract, noting that he’s "going to be leading the charge". The current four year contract between PAT and the ATU rank and file expires June 30th (first level supervisors expires July 31st). Seems like only yesterday the current labor contract was being negotiated: those negotiations involved the former County Executive, the former Governor, PAT and ATU officials, and other national unions when meetings were whisked away from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC.
The status quo on the expiring contract is as follows based on the December 2, 2008 contract ratification notice: ATU bargaining unit employees got a 3% pay increase on January 1st of this year following increases in the three previous years; they are paying 3% toward health care but that level of contribution was met on January 1, 2011; a $500 monthly pension supplement is firmly in place; and employees were segmented into various groups based on age and length of service to determine eligibility for post-retirement medical insurance.
Outsourcing has not been made mentioned in a contract negotiation since 2005, but an outside vendor is operating a bus route as a result of service reductions in March of 2011 (PAT vacated routes and the vendor was granted approval to operate them).
Those could be considered the "micro level" issues; big picture items include what the state does in regards to transportation issues (roads, highways, transit); fundamental changes to the PAT structure (the right to strike, monopoly powers, bankruptcy provisions for legacy costs); and the opening of the North Shore Connector and how the public views service and fares on that extension in light of any planned service reductions system wide due to the budget situation.
News reports tell us the Port Authority is staring at a $25 million deficit in the current fiscal year, and possibly another $25 million next year. They complain that revenues are down and fringe benefits, especially health care, are rising quickly.
Is anyone surprised? Back in 2008, the Port Authority Board caved to union demands and agreed to a contract with no savings in it other than far distant pension and health care payments. A savings that could be reversed in future contracts.
The union was threatening a strike that could have savaged the local economy and brought massive hardships to transit users and produced highway traffic tie-ups. And as usual, the Authority blinked.
Thus, the Port Authority will now be forced to (a) go hat in hand to Harrisburg to ask for more money (b) raise fares again and/or (c) reduce service and layoff drivers and mechanics. This is what happens when a financially strapped entity fails to do its duty and stand up to unions. But wait. The management is hamstrung because it dares not take a strike for fear of what happens to the economy and the fact that it might end up losing some of its already slim user base.
So the problem really goes back to Harrisburg and the state government where there is no real effort to take away the transit workers’ right to strike. Consequently, severe financial problems will continue. As we have recommended many times, the Port Authority must stop filling vacancies and when 20 positions open up due to attrition and retirements, it should outsource routes those jobs supported. Over time, the Authority could make a significant dent in the ability of the transit union to overpower the Board in contact negotiations. We will know the Authority is serious when they announce a complete hiring freeze.