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November 6, 2008

Pitt expands contingency plans in the event of Port Authority strike

Pitt has updated its 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 (

Plans include increased car pooling, the expansion of the existing campus shuttle system, the introduction of new neighborhood buses for areas close to Oakland, the creation of park-and-ride shuttle locations outside the Oakland area and enhancements to the current on-campus parking system. These transit services and parking locations would be available to University passengers as well as UPMC, Sodexho and U.S. security employees. Details are available on the web site.

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. Union leaders on Sept. 12 rejected a state-mandated third-party fact-finding report.

Negotiations between the union and the Port Authority have reached an impasse, according to transit company officials. At its Oct. 24 meeting, the Port Authority board of directors imposed a contract effective Dec. 1 based on its latest offer, a move it said “is allowed by law when impasse has been reached in negotiations.”

In a prepared statement following the board meeting, Port Authority CEO Steve Bland said, “Unilateral implementation of our final best offer is, in my view, a radical step. But I believe it to be our only viable alternative at this time. We are truly at impasse with the leadership of ATU Local 85, and I have absolutely no hope of us reaching a negotiated agreement.”

In response, Patrick McMahon, president/business agent of ATU Local 85, issued a statement that negotiations were not at an impasse, that the Port Authority had refused to consider cost-cutting and concessionary measures offered by the union on Oct. 17 and that, therefore, the unilateral imposition of a contract was illegal.

“We believe it’s illegal for them to do what they’re doing,” McMahon said last week. “We’re going to look at all of our options, including the possibility that this would be deemed a lockout, which means they would have to pay us unemployment.”

This week the rhetoric sharpened when McMahon threatened a Dec. 1 “work stoppage,” according to local media reports.

The union leadership expects to call a meeting of the rank-and-file members around Thanksgiving to approve action in response to the Port Authority’s attempt to impose a contract, McMahon reportedly told one local newspaper. The union could vote to stage a Dec. 1 work stoppage, either declaring a lockout or authorizing a strike. He said the union secured its legal right to strike once the third-party report was rejected in September.

McMahon did not return a call seeking confirmation before the University Times went to press.

Complicating the current 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 costs, he will withhold $27.7 million in funds derived from the county drink and car rental taxes that are earmarked for the Port Authority. When released, those funds prompt the release of state funding of up to $183 million in subsidies to the Post Authority.

If these funds are withheld, Port Authority officials have warned, the transit company would run out of funding by the end of the year, which could force a system-wide shutdown (except for the ACCESS service for those with disabilities, which has a separate funding stream).

The transit company provides approximately 6 million rides a month county-wide. 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. Port Authority spokesperson Judi 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 Port Authority shutdown, regardless of cause. Pitt’s payment would be prorated based on the length of time without Port Authority service, McNeil said.

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. “A determination on the student fee has not been made at this time,” said Kevin Sheehy of Pitt’s Parking, Transportation and Services last month.

Associate director of news John Fedele also said last month that Pitt employees are expected to maintain their regular work schedules regardless of the transit situation.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 41 Issue 6

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