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TWU Local 234 members approve SEPTA contract

A contract that ended a weeklong transit strike earlier this month was ratified by union members Friday night, the final approval needed to put the agreement into effect.

Members of the Transport Workers Union Local 234 voted 1,982-760 to accept the five-year contract. The approval came despite concerns Thursday that opposition within the union and low turnout could conspire to kill the agreement and send the union's leaders back to the negotiating table. A rejected contract would not have automatically led to another strike, said Willie Brown, the local's president.

SEPTA's board voted Thursday to give the chairman, Pasquale Deon, authority to approve the contract after union ratification, which he did.

Union President Willie Brown called the contract "a big win for our members and for SEPTA passengers."

"We achieved good wage increases and a huge improvement in our pension benefits, which was our members' main goal.  Local 234 members can now enjoy five years of security and stability, while serving the riding public," he said in a statement after the vote.

The contract covers 4,738 TWU workers, including subway, trolley, and bus operators. During the strike, which lasted from Nov. 1 to Nov. 7, the city's mass transit ground to a halt. Hundreds of thousands of people who use the system daily were forced to drive, walk, or bike, while ride-sharing businesses such as Uber and Lyft and the city's taxis reported a profitable week.

While the full details of the contract have not been made public, the union and SEPTA have confirmed the major points of the agreement:

  1. 10.5 percent raises over the next five years.

  2. Health-care contributions will grow from 1 percent of workers' pay to 2.5 percent by 2019.

  3. Pensions, the major sticking point in negotiations, will be overhauled, resulting in a 12.8 percent to 15.2 percent increase in pension payments for workers, depending on the number of years worked for SEPTA.

The pension and wage changes alone will add $146 million to the cost of the contract over the next five years. SEPTA has said the increases are within its planned budgets and will not require fare hikes beyond those already scheduled over the next five years. The authority budgeted $182.5 million in labor and fringe benefit increases across all its divisions over the next five years, according to SEPTA's financial documents.

The contract also included protections for fare-collection workers, whose jobs will change when SEPTA Key, a new fare system, is fully implemented. It also gives the union the ability to review how video recorded on SEPTA vehicles is used. The cameras are a great accountability tool when there are fights or disruptions on vehicles, SEPTA has said, but the union has expressed concern that the cameras are also being used to watch workers.

Not addressed in the contract are union concerns that SEPTA's rules governing downtime and breaks during shifts are leaving workers dangerously fatigued on the job. Brown said that issue has not been forgotten, even though it wasn't part of the contract agreement.

"We're going to work on that stuff going forward," he said. "It's going to be addressed."