Port Authority, union reach terms

Called crucial step for avoiding cuts set for next month; details withheld pending ratification

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The Port Authority has reached a tentative contract agreement with its largest union, a crucial step toward avoiding the record-breaking public transit service cuts planned for next month.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced the agreement Thursday afternoon in a brief statement that said no details would be provided until after ratification votes by Local 85 of the Amalgamated Transit Union and the authority board. The union's contract expired June 30.

The statement read:

"The Port Authority, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 and the county have reached a tentative contract agreement. If approved, the agreement is the first step in preventing the 35 percent service cuts, resulting layoffs and Collier Division/park-and-ride closures scheduled to take effect in September.

"That agreement will be considered by the Local 85 membership on August 19th and the Port Authority Board, which will meet in the days following the union vote. Once those votes occur, we will be at liberty to share more details with the public."

The tentative agreement was ratified by the union's executive board but not without dissent, and a faction of the board is expected to oppose ratification by the rank-and-file. The deal calls for significant concessions, including reforms aimed at curbing the transit agency's skyrocketing pension and health care costs.

Marty Marks, a Local 85 spokesman, said he could not comment beyond the statement issued by the county executive. Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie also said he could not comment beyond the statement.

The union contract was a key piece in a framework developed by local officials and Gov. Tom Corbett's administration earlier this summer to close a projected Port Authority budget deficit of more than $60 million and head off the service cuts scheduled for Sept. 2.

Under the plan, the governor would put up $30 million to $35 million, or about half of the funding needed to keep service at existing levels. The other half would come from a combination of union contract concessions, management savings and an increased contribution from the county.

Mr. Corbett issued this statement on Thursday:

"At the outset, we urged both sides to confront the legacy costs and inefficiencies that have imperiled the Port Authority for the past decade. We knew going into this that another one-time fix would not be enough. This tentative contract -- if it meets guidelines we laid out at the beginning of the process -- could be an important first step toward ensuring mass transit for the people of Allegheny County in the years ahead."

State Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, who has called repeatedly for a long-term solution to transit and transportation funding shortfalls, called Thursday's announcement "a historic collaborative agreement."

"I'm as optimistic as I have ever been about the short-term salvation of the Port Authority," he said, and the deal "sets the foundation" for bipartisan legislative action on statewide transportation funding problems in the next session, including a long-term transit funding solution.

"Rich Fitzgerald has done an outstanding job in helping to orchestrate this," Mr. Frankel said.

"We're grateful we've cleared this significant hurdle," said Ken Zapinski, a senior vice president who focuses on transportation issues for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. The conference was among many business groups that had warned of devastating economic consequences from the planned transit cuts.

The cuts would eliminate 46 of the remaining 102 routes, end service after 10 p.m. on all but 13 routes, cause layoffs of 560 employees and eliminate 17 park-n-ride lots. It would be the largest reduction in service in the agency's 48-year history.

The agency went through a 15 percent reduction in service in March 2011.

region - Transportation

Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.


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