• Transit union approves contracts saving $60 million


    PITTSBURGH - Port Authority of Allegheny County’s largest labor union on Sunday ratified contracts that could save the beleaguered transit agency $60 million over four years.

    Voting results were not available Sunday night, but Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 President Steve Palonis said members approved the contracts by an “overwhelming margin.”

    “They knew they had to step up to the plate,” Palonis said, adding more than 1,500 of the union’s 2,300 members cast ballots in voting that ended about 7 p.m.

    Port Authority, union and county leaders have said ratifying the proposed contracts — one with 2,200 rank-and-file members and the other with 100 unionized supervisors — could be an important first step in preventing historic cuts at the agency. The agency previously approved plans to reduce service by 35 percent and lay off more than 500 workers on Sept. 2 to help close a $64 million deficit.

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

    County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who has played a leading role in the contract talks, said last month he was seeking $15 million in annual savings from the union that represents drivers, maintenance workers and other employees, along with $10 million in annual savings from non-union workers, including executives and administrative staffers.

    Fitzgerald said officials in Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration assured him it would provide up to $35 million in emergency state funding if the union agreed to concessions totaling at least $15 million a year. 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.

    Gov. Tom Corbett has not said what, if anything, the state will do.

    “We are really trying to let their process move forward without intervening,” spokeswoman Kelli Roberts said before the vote.

    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. It would require workers to contribute 10.5 percent of their wages toward pensions, up from 5.5 percent now, and to work more hours to receive full vacation. Workers also would do some routine maintenance jobs that are now outsourced, including window cleaning and snow and weed removal.

    Health care coverage would be provided to retirees for no longer than three years.

    This article was written by Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE.

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