For now, transit deal is another Band-Aid

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

Transit riders might have sighed with relief at Sunday's news that Amalgamated Transit Union workers had ratified a 4-year contract with sufficient givebacks to advance a separate agreement among the state, Allegheny County and Port Authority to patch up a $64 million budget deficit without eviscerating transit service on Sept. 2.

Once again, relief is short-lived if there is no action at the state level to provide a long-term, reliable and growing source of revenue for public transit. The weekend's development is a big step toward buying one year of preserved service, with the Port Authority board expected to approve the union contract at a special meeting on Tuesday. The state will kick in an estimated $30 million to $35 million in a one-time payment.

If there is no long-term fix from the Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett, the authority will find itself back in Deficitland next summer. But if it is forced to cut service and lay off workers, there's a triple whammy: the union can void the contract, and three years of givebacks, worth roughly $45 million, will vanish.

That was a deliberate and, from the union's perspective, necessary addition to the contract. "This keeps everyone's feet to the fire," said Joseph Pass Sr., the union's attorney. "Everyone's supposed to have skin in the game."

ATU president and business agent Stephen M. Palonis, noting that union workers have accepted $100 million in concessions in their last two contracts, said "if the state doesn't come up with dedicated funding, we're not going to sit here and negotiate against ourselves. That's not going to happen."

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