Port Authority union approves contracts saving $60 million |

Port Authority union approves contracts saving $60 million

Tom Fontaine
Jasmine Goldband
Jeff DiPerna, a representative for maintenance workers talks with David Kuntch of Jefferson Hills, a trolly maintenance worker outside of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center as Port Authority union members vote Sunday, August 19, 2012. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review

Facing hundreds of layoffs and historic service cuts, Port Authority of Allegheny County’s largest labor union on Sunday overwhelmingly approved contracts that could save the beleaguered transit agency $60 million over four years.

“The (union members) have stepped up and done their part to save public transit in Allegheny County. Now, the burden rests with the Port Authority, the county and, most importantly, the state,” Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 President Steve Palonis said after officials counted more than 1,500 paper ballots. The union has about 2,300 members, including drivers, maintenance workers and first-line supervisors.

Port Authority’s board of directors is expected to vote Tuesday to scrap cost-cutting measures that were planned to close a $64 million deficit in the agency’s $333.1 million budget, including 35 percent service cuts and more than 500 layoffs scheduled for Sept. 2. Then it’s up to Gov. Tom Corbett to come up with more state funding, Palonis said.

Palonis did not release the vote totals, saying they were still being finalized, but said members approved the contracts by an “overwhelming margin.”

Members said they had little choice.

“It was an easy vote for me: I’m one of the ones who will get laid off if we don’t get a deal done,” maintenance worker Wayne Bertoty, 32, of McKeesport said after supporting the concessionary deal.

Douglas Jones, a 19-year maintenance worker from Penn Hills, said, “This contract could be better, but it also could be a lot worse. It’s a tough economy out there.”

Preventing the planned cuts now appears to hinge on Corbett providing up to $35 million in state funding. Union leaders said administration officials assured County Executive Rich Fitzgerald during negotiations that funding would materialize if the union agreed to concessions totaling $15 million a year, but Corbett hasn’t committed to anything publicly.

Fitzgerald, who has played a leading role in the contract talks, said last month he also is seeking $10 million in annual savings from non-union workers, including executives and administrative staffers.

That money, combined with a projected $6 million from fare increases that took effect in July, could be enough to close the budget deficit and prevent the planned cuts, he said.

Port Authority carries an average of 230,000 riders each day on buses, the T and the Monongahela Incline.

Provisions in the proposed contract include freezing workers’ pay for almost two years, although raises of 2 percent to 2.25 percent would be awarded on July 1, 2014; April 1 and July 1, 2015; and on Feb. 1, 2016. Palonis said that would result in annual savings of $6.2 million.

The contract would require workers to contribute 10.5 percent of their wages toward their pensions, up from 5.5 percent, for an annual savings of $7 million. Workers would need to work more hours to receive full vacation, resulting in $2.7 million in annual savings.

Workers would do some routine maintenance jobs that are now outsourced, including window cleaning and snow and weed removal. For employees hired after July 1, 2012, health care coverage would be provided for no longer than three years after retirement. Previous contracts allowed for lifetime coverage for some retirees.

“It’s hard to say whether they’ll get to that $60 million they claim,” said Marick Masters, a former University of Pittsburgh professor who directs labor studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. “They’re trying to cobble something together that plays with the numbers a lot.”

Staff writer Matthew Santoni contributed to this report. Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or [email protected].

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