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SEPTA Makes 'Final Offer' As Philadelphia Hopes To Avert Mass Transit Strike

By Steve Tawa and Diana Rocco

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- As we begin a new week, there is no SEPTA mass transit strike. But no new contract talks have been scheduled, either.

Now the question is whether the next step is cementing a deal, dealing with a job action, or continuing in limbo (see related story).

The Transport Workers' Union Local 234, which represents about 5,000 bus, subway and trolley operators, has been working under terms of a contract that expired in mid-March.

Contracts with two suburban TWU units and United Transportation Union Local 1594 have now expired as well.

SEPTA said it had offered the TWU a two-year contract on Sunday night with wage hikes of two percent the first year and three percent in the second year. But, under the deal, workers would have to spend an additional one percent of their wages on a health-care premium.

SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams says the transit agency is awaiting a response to what it says is its "final offer."

Riders hope the two can work out a deal.

One rider says, "I don't drive so that's my only way to commute to work and to school."

TWU leader Willie Brown insists the union doesn't want to go on strike. The union has yet to even take a strike authorization vote.

He says, "We are a part of the community, if we go on strike we harm our own families, so that's something we don't want to do."

A Local 234 letter to SEPTA's labor negotiators said it "cannot continue to negotiate over health benefits" without first receiving information from the transit agency.

SEPTA buses, subways and trains offer an average of 900,000 trips daily during the week. Workers salaries and pension cost make up about 70 percent of their $1.3 billion operating budget.  The union has indicated they're holding out for a package comparable to what managers were offered.

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