Obama emergency board calls for pay parity for Philadelphia transit workers and others



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PHILADELPHIA — An emergency board appointed by President Barack Obama to end a one-day transit strike in Philadelphia recommended Monday that engineers get wage increases similar to other unions that have contracts with the regional transportation authority.

The board recommended Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority train engineers be paid $33.09 hourly, equivalent to the same 11.5 percent raise that bus drivers and subway operators have gotten over five years. Engineers were seeking raises of at least 14.5 percent over five years.

The board turned down a request by the SEPTA employees for higher guaranteed benefits for those who retire before age 62. But it sided with employees that they should not have to wait eight years before being able to get single days off. The ruling stems from a one-day strike last month that shut down 13 regional rail lines.

SEPTA has been in federally supervised mediation with two holdout unions — the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers — since 2010. The vast majority of SEPTA employees accepted the 11.5 percent wage hike, which would give trainmen and engineers raises of $2.60 to $3 per hour, the agency said.

"SEPTA appreciates the (board's) hard work and we invite the BLET and IBEW to return to the bargaining table as soon as possible so that we may resume talks," SEPTA said in a statement late Monday.

Union officials were studying the report and said they may respond late Monday evening.

About 400 workers walked off the job one Saturday last month, shutting down rail lines that carry about 60,000 passengers each weekday between Philadelphia and its suburbs in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Buses, subways and trolleys continued to operate.

The workers were required to return after Obama created the emergency board. If the recommendations do not lead to a deal, a second emergency board can be requested.

The union's contract expired in 2009. The last SEPTA regional rail strike, in 1983, lasted more three months.

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