As we approach Friday’s decision by the Port Authority and the ATU on whether to accept the settlement proposal put forth by the wise and thoughtful fact-finder, Jane Rigler…

2007 median wage for “Bus Drivers, Transit and Intercity” in the U.S. as estimated by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics: $17.49/hour.

2007 Port Authority bus driver wage: $22.85.

(Source: In the Matter of Fact Findings between the Port Authority of Allegheny Conty and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, Aug. 29, 2008)

Average employee contribution for employer-provided family healthcare coverage: about 25%.

Average Port Authority union employee contribution for Port Authority-provided family healthcare coverage: about 2.7%.

(Source: Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Economic Letter, Sept. 29, 2006)

Posted by: Ken Zapinski


Port Authority’s August ridership numbers are out. The two graphs below tell the story.

The blue graph shows how much smaller the Port Authority bus system is today compared to five years ago (August 2003).  Today’s system is 24% smaller, when measured by the number of hours of bus service available across all routes.  But average weekday bus ridership today is almost 3% higher today than it was five years ago (red graph).  That’s a huge increase in productivity.

Let’s hope the trend continues. And let’s hope the productivity numbers increase even more once the Connect ’09 system redesign process is complete.

Posted by: Ken Zapinski

Below is a graph depicting how much state and county revenue the Port Authority is expected to received between now (FY2009) and FY2013 (year ending June 30, 2013.) Based on state funding formulas, the amount of available state and county money will actually decrease over the next five years. (You can find this slide and others in the Port Authority presentation “FY2009 Issues and Challenges.”)

These revenue sources make up about 61% of the Port Authority’s budget.  Which means that as the cost of diesel fuel and electricity and bus tires and paper clips rises over the next few years, the purchasing power of the Port Authority will continue to decrease. (Joe Grata explains the problem in Sunday’s PG.)

The Port Authority is trying to increase the effectiveness of its network through its Connect 09 system redesign to help minimize the impact of this flat revenue curve and to maintain an adequate level of service in the years ahead. But the solution also includes securing a competitive new labor contract.

The more that each Port Authority bus driver costs in wages and benefits — including retiree healthcare —  the fewer bus drivers the Port Authority will be able to afford.  And that will mean fewer hours of bus service

Posted by: Ken Zapinski

A copy of the fact-finder’s report offering the compromise of a 3% wage hike for Port Authority workers coupled with increased healthcare premium payments is available here. Here’s my initial reaction. What do you think about the report?

Question: What will cost the Port Authority more during this budget year — paying for diesel fuel or paying for retiree health care?

Answer: The Port Authority has budgeted $33,584,000 to pay for retiree healthcare this year, or 9.6% of its overall budget.

That means nearly a dime out of every $1 the Port Authority has goes toward retiree healthcare. That’s more than the authority has budgeted for diesel fuel purchases this year ($33,437,455).

Keep in mind, retiree healthcare-for-life is a benefit that few private-sector firms offer, and is a benefit not available to Philadelphia’s transit workers, to folks who work for Allegheny County government, or to the Port Authority’s non-union personnel (managers and administrative workers).

Posted by: Ken Zapinski

With all due respect to Sean Connery…

Null Space weighs in on my Sunday Post-Gazette Forum commentary on the Port Authority labor dispute. He raises a very good point about the lack of detail on the recent contract settlement agreed to by the Chicago Transit Authority that addresses many of the same issues facing the Port Authority. (His “Away All Boats” reference, alas, does not hold water.)

The accommodations by the CTA’s 17 unions include:

  • The unions agreed to relieve the CTA of its healthcare obligation by settling for a little more than 50 cents on each dollar owed;
  • Union members went from paying nothing for healthcare coverage to paying 3% of base wages.
  • Retirees go from paying nothing for healthcare coverage to paying up to 45% of the premium cost.
  • And the age for retirement with full benefits goes from 55 years old/25 years of service to 64/25.

There were also changes on pension, authority governance, and other issues that are not directly on point with the Port Authority situation. But you can judge for yourself. A full description of the CTA reform package is available here on the web site of Democratic Illinois State Rep. Julie Hamos.

Posted by: Ken Zapinski

Last week, I noted that the Port Authority’s T system has an unusually high number of stops compared to other systems and that all those stops help slow the system to a relative crawl. Here’s another reason — the way we pay fares.

Most light-rail systems use what  is called “proof-of-payment,” which works largely on the honor system. There is no farebox when you enter the train. You pay at a machine at the station and receive a receipt/ticket.  If you’re riding the train and you’re asked to show your receipt, you better be able to produce one or you’re in trouble.

Yes, there are people who cheat the system, don’t pay the fare, and play the percentages that a transit official won’t ask to see their ticket. But the advantage is that it greatly speeds boarding. When a train pulls up, all doors open and people can get on in any of them.

Contrast that to the T stops where only the first door opens and everyone must wait in line to go through a single door and flash their pass or put their money in the farebox under the watchful eye of the operator. That increases the time spent at each stop and slows down the overall operation.

The average T speed is barely faster than the average bus operating speed (less than 4% faster, according to the Port Authority’s report), while other systems are much faster. Portland’s light rail, for instance, is 36% faster than its companion bus network.

Posted by: Ken Zapinski

I have a commentary in today’s Post-Gazette Forum section. Welcome all you PG readers. If you want to join the discussion — what you agree with, what you disagree with — just click the “comments” link right beneath the headline.

Posted by: Ken Zapinski

It’s way too soon to tell for sure. But if press accounts are accurate, fact-finder Jane Rigler’s proposal may be a workable solution for the Port Authority labor dispute:

  • 3% annual wage increases (the Port Authority is offering 0%).
  • Increasing healthcare premium payments for employees and future retirees (union wants to keep the status quo.)
  • Starts to get a handle on retiree healthcare costs by requiring some workers who retire before age 65 to pay 100% of their health insurance premiums (union wants to keep the status quo).
  • Does not address the growing absenteeism problem, OT procedures, and other work rule changes (Port Authority wants but the union opposes.)

Said fact-finder Rigler of her recommended settlement: “Local 85 employees will see their wages increase while, at the same time, continue to enjoy an enviable benefits package.”

Until the numbers are crunched, it’s impossible to say whether her proposal does enough to control the Port Authority’s $685 million health care liability for current workers and future/current retirees. And a contract without work rule changes will continue to make managing the Port Authority a task more difficult than it needs to be.

The two sides have until Sept 13 to either accept or reject the recommended settlement. If either rejects it, then negotiations continue but the union would then be legally permitted to go on strike if it chooses.

Posted by: Ken Zapinski

A tip of the hat to Cowboy Neal Cassady and A Son of the Greatest Generation, a couple of ATU union members with a blog giving their perspectives on the labor negotiations.  We don’t see eye to eye on many things (but some, maybe). But they are stand-up guys who allowed me to comment on their blog and have engaged me in discussion on other sites. They (and everybody else) is encouraged to come join the discussion here anytime.

Posted by: Ken Zapinski

July 2018
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