A Thursday night sit down between SEPTA officials and members of the Transit Worker Union has left the two sides hopeful that a deal will soon be reached, avoiding an impending strike for the transit company that would most likely begin Sunday at midnight.
On his way out of the meeting, Local 234 president Willie Brown told NBC10's Keith Jones that he thinks a deal may be in place in the next day or two.
The good news comes just one day after Brown said that the odds of a strike were "very good."
The contract for most members of TWU Local 234, which represents around 5,000 SEPTA workers, expired on March 15. Union members have been working under an old agreement since then.
The last of three TWU and SEPTA contracts is set to expire at midnight on April 6. Local lawmakers have asked both sides to enter arbitration, which is normally used in the state to settle contracts with police, fire and other employees, in order to avoid a strike.
“We can get this contract settled,” Brown said. “We’re ready to accept binding arbitration rather than exercise our right to strike. It’s an option that works for the riders and for the taxpayers who make funding for mass transit possible. We’re ready to arbitrate. The City Council says both parties should arbitrate. A majority of Philadelphia legislators say both parties should arbitrate. The question is – why is SEPTA refusing to arbitrate?”
Brown says that the issues in dispute are submitted to a neutral third party under the terms of arbitration, meaning neither side will have any advantage.
“We’re very confident that our contract proposals are fair to our members and will keep the agency on sound financial footing,” Brown said. “We’re perfectly willing to let a neutral third party review what we’ve proposed. If SEPTA management is confident in their contract proposals, why aren’t they willing to do the same?”
A SEPTA spokesperson responded to Brown's comments Wednesday afternoon.
"SEPTA believes that the parties can best work out their differences by engaging in good faith negotiations," said the spokesperson in a released statement. "It is not in the best interest of SEPTA, its employees, the union or the taxpayers for a third party – with no vested interest in the day to day operations of the Authority - to dictate the wages, benefits and working conditions of SEPTA’s workers. The union’s threat to strike does nothing to move the parties closer to an agreement. SEPTA urges the union to continue bargaining at the table so that the parties can reach an amicable settlement."
Brown told NBC10 that SEPTA's offers were so full of concessions that they were "provoking a strike."
"With the proposals they come to the table with they are provoking a strike,' Brown said. "They know absolutely, positively that we can't accept some of the concessions they want. They know that."
If a strike happens, Union leaders say SEPTA's backup plans won't be enough.
"There plan is to put people on regional rail," Brown said. "You can only carry so many people."
The two sides will meet again on Friday morning.