Buses, trolleys and subways in Philadelphia will continue to operate for the time being after thousands of transit workers said Friday they would stay on the job when their contract expires at midnight.
The statement released by Transport Workers Union Local 234 came several hours after officials for the regional transit agency announced contingency plans for a possible walkout.
“We’re willing to go the extra mile to reach a fair agreement,” said union president Willie Brown. “We’re not willing to sign on to a lengthy contract extension or make hasty decisions having a long-term effect on our members’ family finances.”
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority had a news conference Friday morning after the union didn’t show up for a planned bargaining session. The contract for 4,700 employees in the city transit division expired at 12:01 a.m. today.
However, union leaders noted that pacts with two other SEPTA branches are in force until April. The statement says any work stoppage would involve all three bargaining units. A union representative did not immediately respond to a request for further details.
It’s unclear when negotiations might resume. SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said the agency has not received a response to its request for a three-month extension.
“When they’re ready to meet with us, we’ll make ourselves available,” Williams said.
SEPTA, the nation’s sixth-largest transit operator, serves Philadelphia and its surrounding counties and has annual ridership of about 337 million.
The agency received a contract proposal from the union earlier this week and sent back a counter-proposal Friday, Williams said, though she did not disclose details. Employee benefits and wages account for about 70 percent of SEPTA’s $1.3 billion operating budget this year.
According to the union, points of contention in bargaining include discipline, use of surveillance cameras, pensions and the effect of the new federal health care law.
A walkout would have shut down transit lines within the city of Philadelphia, including buses, trolleys and two subway lines that provide about 825,000 passenger trips on an average weekday. Thirteen regional rail lines that serve the suburbs would have continued operating.
A strike by transit workers in 2009 lasted six days.