Wednesday, March 30, 2011

County Council Hears Both PAT and Local 85

Members of the two sides in disagreement over labor negotiations between Port Authority Transit and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 met in Allegheny County Courthouse’s Gold Room Wednesday evening under a special meeting called for by Allegheny Council President Jim Burn.

Burn and his fellow council members asked each representative if they were willing to go back to the negotiating table after heated but closed talks ended on Saturday afternoon. The following day, the Port Authority went through with a 15 percent service cut. Steve Bland, CEO of PAT and Patrick McMahon, union President for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 both agreed in principle to continuing negotiations.

According to reports from both sides, management and the union were close to reaching an agreement after “historic” concessions were made by the union regarding legacy funds and health care for retirees.

County Manager Jim Flynn said a “cooling off” period was necessary and four days between talks is helpful for each side to reset before negotiating again.

Many councilmen questioned the representatives to help educate themselves on where each side stands and to encourage immediate negotiations. Councilmen explained that the lack of state funding has driven the problems that lead to service cuts and further cuts expected in June of 2012. Councilman Michael Finnerty says the blame game between sides is unnecessary when there is a bigger issue.

“When we look at the situation be realistic about it in saying what the problem is, and the state is one of the problems, it’s not just legacy cuts, it’s not just healthcare, it’s dedicated funding, too.”

Bland agreed with Finnerty’s sentiments saying until there is a source of dedicated funding, these meetings will come up every few months as PAT finds itself in financial trouble again.

“We have to move away from these one-day, one-week, one-month, one-year Band-Aids, limp-alongs, bailouts, you-name-it and get to a point where public transportation in Pittsburgh is sustainable on an ongoing basis and frankly where derivative bodies like this one can move onto issues of other significant public policy interests.”

McMahon says negotiations can and will continue, but constant ultimatums from the Port Authority won’t be the fix.

“As far as we are concerned, Local 85, we have never left the negotiating table but we need someone that we can negotiate with,” McMahon says. “Take it or leave it proposals will not get it done, it will get a mutually agreeable solution.”

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