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November 20, 2008

Bus service remains a question

bus-serviceTwo important dates are looming in the stalemate between the Port Authority of Allegheny County and its union workers.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 85, comprising some 2,300 bus drivers, rail operators, mechanics and clerical workers, has called a meeting Nov. 23 for rank-and-file members to vote on whether to stop working in protest of the Port Authority’s intention to impose a new contract on Dec. 1. Union members have been working without a contract since July 1.

Last month, the Port Authority board of directors unilaterally 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 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 and that, therefore, the unilateral imposition of a contract was illegal and constituted a lockout.

According to local media reports citing McMahon as the source, among the options open to the union membership are authorizing the ATU leadership to call a strike; claiming the action of the Port Authority constitutes a lockout and declaring a work stoppage; seeking an injunction to stop the Port Authority from imposing the contract, and continuing to work if negotiations are renewed.

McMahon did not return calls seeking confirmation of these options before the University Times went to press.

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 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. Releasing those funds triggers 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 will run out of funding by the end of the year, which could force a system-wide shutdown, regardless of what the union decides to do.

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 has posted its contingency plans in the event of a transit work stoppage at

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 41 Issue 7

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