By Syma Chowdhry, Mike Dougherty
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It’s back to the bargaining table for SEPTA and Transport Workers Union Local 234 Sunday morning.
The contract for more than 5,000 subway and trolley operators, bus drivers and mechanics expires at midnight. Representatives from the union are seeking higher wages and better health benefits for employees.
Sources say both sides have made significant progress since negotiations began, and both union president Willie Brown and SEPTA officials have expressed optimism that a deal will get done ahead of the deadline. Both sides last met Friday night for about five hours.
“We’re hoping to get a deal,” SEPTA spokesman Jerri Williams says. “I know the public is very concerned that there might be a work stoppage, but we are doing our very best to sit down to talk about the issues, and to work out a contract that is beneficial for both SEPTA, our union employees, our riders and, of course, our taxpayers.”
SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch says there are no major sticking points and that the two sides are not far apart. They have apparently agreed to work on a two-year contract.
Regular SEPTA riders are also hopeful a deal can be reached, however, they are forced to make a Plan B when it comes to their Monday morning work commute if a strike happens:
“I don’t know what would I would do if they went on strike,” this rider said. “I don’t know how I would get from Point A to Point B.”
“It would make me feel upset, sick to my stomach, you know, I don’t understand what the problem is,” says this rider.
Buses and trolleys, the Broad Street Line, the Market Frankford Line and the Norristown High Speed Line would stop running if a deal isn’t reached. The regional rail lines and the Lucy bus will not affected.
There is a long history of bitter disputes between SEPTA and the union, including a dozen strikes, but this time both sides say talks are going well and it’s unclear if workers will strike if a deal isn’t reached.
On Sunday evening, SEPTA Director of Media Relations Jerri Williams issued a statement saying the TWU leadership and SEPTA have not made meaningful progress since Friday afternoon.