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September 25, 2008

Port Authority talks continuing

Pitt continues to develop contingency plans in the event of a strike by Port Authority of Allegheny County workers or a work stoppage triggered by lack of transit funding. Plans are posted on a link on Pitt’s home page (

Negotiations between the Port Authority and representatives of its largest union were taking place yesterday, Sept. 24, as the University Times went to press.

Some 2,400 bus drivers, rail operators, mechanics and clerical workers of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 85 have been working without a contract since July 1.

Following the union leaders’ Sept. 12 rejection of a state-mandated third-party fact-finding report, the union is within its rights to authorize a strike, according to Patrick McMahon, president/business agent of ATU Local 85.

“But the members do not want a strike, because we know we have an obligation to the community, especially in these economic times,” McMahon told the University Times on Tuesday. “We would like to continue to negotiate. If it takes marathon negotiation sessions, we’ll do it. We have said publicly, and I’ll say it now, we are willing to move on concessions over time; we just don’t want to give everything away overnight. But I would say: To us a strike is a very last resort.”

When pressed, McMahon said that the logistics of renting a hall big enough to accommodate the union’s 2,400 members for a vote means that any strike is at least “weeks away.”

Complicating the situation is that County Chief Executive Dan Onorato has stated publicly that unless the transit agency and the union settle on a contract that curbs labor’s legacy costs, he will withhold $28 million in funds derived from the county drink and car rental taxes that are earmarked for the Port Authority. Those funds also prompt the release of some state money.

Judi McNeil, Port Authority spokesperson, said, “Without county and state funding, it will become difficult for Port Authority to meet its expenses by the end of this calendar year.” Running out of operating capital would force a system shutdown, McNeil said.

The transit company provides approximately 6 million rides a month countywide. Pitt employees and students account for about 460,000 rides per month during the academic year, according to Port Authority figures.

Pitt’s contract with the Port Authority calls for a monthly payment of $324,000 in exchange for fare-free rides for Pitt ID holders. McNeil said clauses in the contract stipulate that the University can suspend payments and expand operations of its shuttle system in the event of a shutdown, regardless of cause. Pitt’s payment would be prorated based on the length of time without Port Authority service, she added.

The University’s payment to the Port Authority is subsidized in part by the $90 per term safety, security and transportation fee that Pittsburgh campus students pay. It is unknown whether that fee would be adjusted during a shutdown. The Office of Public Affairs forwarded a University Times request for information to officials in Parking, Transportation and Services, who had not responded by the time the paper went to press.

The web page with the University’s contingency plans, last updated Sept. 15, states that options under consideration include:

• Pitt may expand campus bus service by two-three miles to areas such as Shadyside and Squirrel Hill during a work stoppage.

• The University is working to provide service to neighborhoods outside of the city, potentially creating a series of pick-up points where Pitt passengers could board a Pitt bus to campus.

• To accommodate the expected increased demand for parking spaces, remote parking locations are being identified from which shuttle service to campus might operate.

• Pitt-owned on-campus transient parking spaces may be restricted to employees, with carpoolers having priority.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 41 Issue 3

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