Union leaders urge wary Port Authority workers to approve new contract, benefit cuts |

Union leaders urge wary Port Authority workers to approve new contract, benefit cuts

Union leaders representing about 2,300 Port Authority of Allegheny County workers are urging members to ratify a new contract with significant concessions when they vote this week.

Meanwhile, employees are wrestling with the proposed concessions and weighing them against the loss of hundreds of jobs.

“Things are different than they used to be; times are a lot tougher,” said one worker on Wednesday at the Ross Division garage who did not want to be identified. “You hate to take a step backward, but you have to save jobs.”

“I’ve been in unions all my life, starting with the mills. I’ve been through all kinds of layoffs, shutdowns, cutbacks and concessions. … I was expecting all of this,” said one weary maintenance worker, who said he was waiting to get home — away from the talk of the shop — before reviewing the contract and making up his mind. “This is my third time trying to retire.”

“I think you’re going to see a split” in the vote, said another worker.

Ratification requires a simple majority — one vote more than 50 percent.

The tentative contract, which began leaking out when workers got copies of it on Tuesday and Wednesday, includes a two-year pay freeze for some workers; a near doubling of employees’ pension contributions to 10.5 percent of their pay; reduction to three years in new workers’ post-retirement health care from lifetime coverage; the ability for Port Authority to contract out some jobs if outsiders can do them for less; and a requirement that employees work longer for vacation benefits.

A statement on Wednesday from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 President Stephen Palonis urged workers to approve the deal.

“Faced with a possible closing of the Collier garage, the layoff of more than 500 employees, and the destruction of mass transit for our riding public, the overwhelming majority of the officers and union executive board recognize that this agreement will provide long-term stability for transit in this county,” Palonis said. “We have considered all alternatives and have concluded that it is the best deal possible, and as a result the executive board has recommended that the union members approve the agreement.”

Palonis said the union would not comment on details of the deal until after it has been ratified. Voting will be on Sunday. The Port Authority Board will vote on the contract a few days later.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald refused to comment until after employees vote on the deal.

Averting severe service cuts and filling a $64 million deficit in Port Authority’s $333 million budget depends upon whether the contract concessions and other savings from the agency’s management are enough to persuade Gov. Tom Corbett to kick in another $35 million or so in state assistance.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or [email protected].

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