Transit union president Willie Brown said in a morning press conference that SEPTA's chronic underfunding of employee pensions has forced his union to the picket lines.

SEPTA general manager Joe Casey begs to differ.

At his own press conference this afternoon, Casey blamed employee pension problems on the stock market. In 2005, before the crash, pensions were 65 percent funded.

"The stock market crashed," he said, bringing funding down to 52 percent.

Though Casey admitted that 52 percent was a low funding level, it is comparable to the state of other public sector unions' pensions, he said. The pension fund for Philadelphia city employees is also about 52 percent funded.

Casey called union criticism of the pension fund's management (which includes investment decisions) disingenuous, because the fund is overseen by a board including two representatives from Transport Workers Union Local 234. The board is responsible for overseeing the fund's investments in securities.

He also said that union demands could put the pension fund in worse financial shape. SEPTA has offered to increase payouts from the pension fund to union members from 5 percent to 11 percent. But, he said, making these payments would lower the funding level to 40 percent or less, because the extra money would come out of the existing pot.

Casey also disagreed with the union's assertion that an 11-percent raise in wages over five years, which SEPTA says it has offered, would be offset by increased worker contributions to the pension fund (Brown said in his press conference that this offer had never been made).

SEPTA workers currently pay 2 percent of their wages before overtime into the pension. Under SEPTA's offer, that amount would increase by 1 percentage point in three years, and by another half a percentage point in four years. Casey said the proposed pay increases would more than cover the increased pension contributions by workers.

Casey is expecting a call from the governor this afternoon, but no word yet on when talks will resume.

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