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Port Authority, union reach tentative deal

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Jasmine Goetz, 27, of the North Side plays with her son, James Chancellor, 7 months-old, at the Wood Street Station, Downtown, Thursday, August 9, 2012. Port Authority reached a tentative deal with its labor union that may avoid service cuts. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
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A Port Authority bus makes it way along Forbes Avenue in Oakland Sunday, March 27, 2011. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review

The Port Authority of Allegheny County’s largest labor union will vote a week from Sunday on contract proposals that could help save hundreds of its members’ jobs and stave off the largest service cuts in the agency’s history.

Officials with the Port Authority, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 and Allegheny County said on Thursday that they have reached tentative agreements on contracts for the union’s 2,300 members.

“Our members will have the last word,” said ATU Local 85 spokesman Marty Marks. “We remain cautiously optimistic.”

Members of the union’s executive board, which voted on Thursday to send the contract proposals to rank-and-file members for a vote, told the Tribune-Review that they were under “strict orders” not to speak to the news media.

No one close to the discussion would divulge details, and it’s unclear whether the contracts, if approved, would prevent all of the reductions and closures planned for Sept. 2. Recent fare hikes are expected to remain, officials have said.

“If approved, the agreement is the first step in preventing the 35 percent service cuts, resulting layoffs and Collier Division (and) park-and-ride closures scheduled to take effect in September,” County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said in a statement.

The Port Authority recommended those cuts and closures, along with fare increases that took effect in July, to close a $64 million gap in its $333.1 million budget.

In separate votes scheduled for Aug. 19, about 2,200 rank-and-file drivers, mechanics and other employees will consider one contract offer, and roughly100 unionized supervisors will vote on another, Marks said.

Both groups’ contracts expired this summer. Approval requires a simple majority, or 50 percent plus one vote.

Voting sessions will take place in the morning and afternoon to accommodate members who work that day. Officials will tally the votes that night.

If the union approves the contracts, the Port Authority’s executive board would need to OK the deal. It would hold a special meeting within a few days of the union vote.

Fitzgerald, who acted as unofficial mediator in the contract talks, has said he wanted union and management concessions for a combined $25 million in immediate savings, along with undetermined additional union concessions that would reduce runaway retirement health care and pension costs in years to come.

Fitzgerald believes concessions would spur the state to provide a bailout of up to $35 million. Those moves, combined with a projected $6 million from the fare increases, would close the deficit and prevent reductions, he said.

Gov. Tom Corbett declined to say what, if anything, the state might do to help, but he appeared encouraged by the tentative agreements.

“This tentative contract, if it meets guidelines we laid out at the beginning of the process, could be an important first step toward ensuring mass transit for the people of Allegheny County in the years ahead,” he said.

PennDOT, which had some involvement in negotiations, appeared encouraged, too.

“We’ve looked at the plan, and we’re optimistic about the future of transportation in Allegheny County,” said PennDOT spokesman Steve Chizmar.

Port Authority planned to order schedules on Friday to reflect route cuts and changes, in order to print and distribute them before Sept. 2.

“As of today, it’s unknown,” spokesman Jim Ritchie said when asked about the printing order, expected to cost $100,000. “We’re deciding what to do regarding the schedules.”

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