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Nearly 99 percent of BLET members authorize strike

CLEVELAND, June 3 — An overwhelming 98.84 percent majority of BLET members working for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) have voted to authorize a strike when a mandatory 30-day cooling off period under the Railway Labor Act comes to an end in less than two weeks.

Locomotive engineers could walk off the job, or be locked out by SEPTA, at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on June 14, 2014, unless President Obama intervenes and appoints a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB). A PEB would delay a strike or lockout by the parties, and would investigate and issue a report and recommendations concerning the dispute.

As background, the National Mediation Board released the BLET and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) from mediation with SEPTA on May 14, creating a 30-day cooling off period, which expires at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on June 14. At that point self-help is available to the parties, which means the BLET and/or the IBEW could go on strike.

BLET Vice President Steve Bruno noted that the union’s goal remains to bring the dispute to resolution in the most expeditious manner possible. “It is unfortunate that SEPTA’s refusal to bargain in good faith makes the June 14, 2014 self-help deadline the best option for our members. In any event, the citizens of Philadelphia should be prepared for the shutdown of SEPTA’s rail service in the Philadelphia metropolitan area if a strike or lockout should occur.” Bruno said. “While we recognize there is never a good time for a strike we have been very patient and continued to provide service without a contract for four years, and our members deserve a conclusion to their contract negotiations. The June 14, 2014 date presents the best potential commuting weather conditions and avoids the impact a strike will have on the counties’ school children,” Bruno added.

IBEW System Council No. 7 General Chairman Arthur Davidson stated: “SEPTA’s conduct in refusing to address important issues in excess of four years of negotiations has resulted in SEPTA potentially subjecting the good people of Philadelphia to a stoppage of SEPTA rail service. If it is necessary for the IBEW to engage in a strike against SEPTA, it will be a direct result of SEPTA’s refusal to reach a fair contract with us. We are so confident in our position that we are willing to submit our dispute to binding arbitration, which would resolve this matter and avert a strike. Unfortunately, SEPTA has refused to act reasonably and agree to binding arbitration.”

BLET National President Dennis Pierce said the near unanimous vote in favor of a strike is a clear mandate from BLET members that they are prepared to fight for a fair agreement. “It is unfortunate that SEPTA continues to insist that its locomotive engineers accept less than the economic pattern it set with the Transport Workers Union five years ago,” Pierce said.

President Pierce also praised those who participated in the strike vote, saying “Ballots were returned by almost 86% of BLET members working for SEPTA, and their near-unanimous vote to authorize a strike provides BLET with a powerful mandate.”

Additional information will be provided as developments warrant.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014
bentley@ble-t.org

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