The Tribune-Review has reported that the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce is alerting its members to be ready for a possible Port Authority strike:
The Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce is warning its members to prepare for the possibility that labor strife could force a Port Authority shutdown this summer.
The chamber advised its members in a letter to have a plan ready if talks break down, cutting off bus and T service to 220,000 daily riders, and has scheduled a brainstorming session March 27.
WTAE story also. More fighting words between Onorato and ATU president Patrick McMahon from October 2007. And here comes my prediction: Onorato might want to not budge on cutting costs in a new contract, even if it means a crippling strike. It might be the political move that saves his career from the negative reaction to the drink tax. Yes, a strike would be awful and could kill any hopes of the Port Authority aspiring to serve more people. But I just do not see much sympathy for the union in this town given most people's opinion of the Port Authority. (Not properly counting what's in the fare box doesn't help.)
It's times like this where I feel so conflicted about the Port Authority. I want this town to have better transit. However, I also realize the Port Authority has many issues including labor costs and priorities such as the North Shore Connector. However, those who criticize the Port Authority are often the ones who want to cut its funding, restrict its growth, or privatize it. If the police force is doing a bad job, you don't cut their funding, but people see transit differently. The Port Authority needs more money to expand service and make this city truly world-class. Yes, reforms and oversight are needed. But you don't throw the buses out with the bathwater.
Some think that transit has to be 100% solvent, which bothers me to no end. The Interstate System isn't solvent. Our airport and airline system isn't solvent. But we pay for these things even if we don't use them because our economy and the well-being of our citizens depend on them. You don't expect the pipes in your house to be a money maker, you just want them to get things where they need to be.
So I truly hope a contract is settled and the Port Authority can continue running, but I believe the public would be on Onorato's side if push came to shove. Maybe I'm underestimating union solidarity in our steel town.
The last strike was in 1992, and lasted at least 26 days until a court forced the operators back to work. (Wow, that was the same year as the newspaper strike that killed the Pittsburgh Press and allowed the Tribune-Review to rise.) Read about it in the New York Times:
Transit Union Walks Out, And Pittsburghers Walk (3/17/92)
No Subway, No Buses, But Plenty of Sore Feet (4/4/92)
Pittsburgh Judge Orders End To 26-Day-Old Transit Strike (4/11/92)
Perhaps the only good that would come from a transit strike would be a feeling of bosses and car-drivers everywhere realizing "Wow, people really ride those buses." They'll realize when lower-income workers have to call in sick or quit their downtown job. They'll realize it when there's more cars on the Parkway East and Route 51. They'll realize it when parking is $30 downtown due to demand. They'll realize it when their workers are less productive because they had to walk 45 minutes to work. And those bars who abhor the drink tax will have less college students lining up at their doors. Sometimes people need a reminder.