Transit, union leaders called to D.C.

Port Authority and union officials are in Washington, D.C., for a third straight day of highly unusual meetings called by the International AFL-CIO and International Amalgamated Transit Union.

Both sides in the labor dispute involving the transit union's 2,300-member Local 85 had yet to sit face to face despite numerous sessions that consumed much of the weekend.

Yesterday's separate meetings started around 10 a.m. and didn't conclude until early evening, authority Chief Executive Officer Steve Bland said.

He said none of the discussions with AFL-CIO officials and top staffers involved a contract that the authority board has voted to impose Dec. 1, a fact-finder's recommendations aimed at achieving a new agreement, or negotiations that have been held sporadically. Rather, he said his meetings thus far have all dealt with past, present and future financial information.

"We've been going through three binders of reports, budget projections, Act 44 [state funding], actuarial assumptions about pension plans, the county's drink tax ... things like that," Mr. Bland said in a brief phone interview. "[The AFL-CIO] had a lot of questions."

All of his meetings have been with the AFL-CIO. He said he had not yet been asked to meet with the International ATU or Local 85.

Whether contract talks or a proposal may be forthcoming remained unclear, but being asked to go to the nation's capital and meet with union hierarchy about a contract dispute is unprecedented in the Port Authority's 44-year history.

Mr. Bland was accompanied to the hastily called meetings by attorney Michael Palombo, of Campbell, Beatty & Durant, the authority's representative in contract talks that began with preliminaries more than a year ago.

President-Business Agent Patrick McMahon and the union's longtime labor counsel, Joseph J. Pass, are representing the local union in Washington.

While Mr. Bland said he had not met with officials of the International ATU, it was believed that Mr. McMahon and Mr. Pass had done so. In a news release before they left for Washington, the union said its parent organization and the AFL-CIO "have stepped in to try to assist in getting the parties back to the table to reach a settlement."

Mr. McMahon and Mr. Pass could not be reached for comment last night, but a Local 85 media representative, Jennifer England, said Mr. McMahon would either have a statement or take news media calls sometime today.

Because of the Washington, D.C., meeting, Mr. McMahon canceled two membership "informational meetings" that had been scheduled for yesterday on the South Side. The notice said the purpose was "to educate members about the status of negotiations and to share legal options available to the union."

The union has maintained that a bus-trolley work stoppage is possible if the authority proceeds with imposing the new contract on its members at 12:01 a.m. next Monday.

Mr. McMahon has indicated workers will be asked to stay on the job while the union goes into court seeking an injunction and possibly other legal recourse. But if court intervention fails, he said the union will consider the authority's action a lockout and will not report for work.

Authority officials have maintained any such job action would constitute a strike.