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Workers plan to walk off the job June 1 if a new contract is not signed. Marking a possible end to 2 1/2 months of deadlocked negotiations, Transport Workers Union Local 234 has threatened a regional transit strike against SEPTA management for noon on Monday, June 1, even if talks are still going on. "If I do not have an agreement by June the first, there will be a strike," TWU President Steve Brookens said, stressing that riders should prepare alternate means of transportation on that date to avoid being stranded. At a press conference yesterday at TWU headquarters on 22nd and Spring Garden streets, State Representative Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia) announced his support for the union and his willingness to do "whatever it takes" to avoid a strike. Evans announced the appointment of Herman Wooden -- secretary-treasurer of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1776 -- to the SEPTA board of directors. Brookens said the first-time appointment of a "labor person" to the SEPTA board will "give a different view to board members," and aid in the settlement process. The new June 1 deadline marks the first of its kind since the March 15 expiration of the old TWU contract, which covered about 5,300 city transit workers. Two suburban contracts, representing around 300 TWU members, also expired last month. The strike threat covers all three bargaining units. Negotiators for SEPTA and the TWU have been meeting several times a week since mid-March -- when union leaders said they would continue negotiating as long as progress was being made -- but both sides report little progress on the major issues, including health benefits, wages, work rules, pensions, and workers' compensation. The two sides have not met at the bargaining table since the announcement of the June 1 deadline last week, and there are currently no meetings scheduled until that date. "If rational people were really in charge of SEPTA negotiations, they'd be having urgent negotiations to settle, but they show no interest in doing so at this point," TWU business agent Bruce Bodner said. And Brookens added, "This is not about money, it's about tearing this union down." A strike would shut down subways, buses and trolleys, leaving 450,000 weekday passengers searching for other ways to get around the city. A strike would also affect the thousands of riders on SEPTA's suburban services. But insisting that leaders would not bend on their demand for a contract that overhauls work rules, changes worker absenteeism policies, and cuts the cost of health benefits, SEPTA management said it was confident it could handle a strike. "Given the union's conduct in these negotiations, if they go out on strike, the entire city will turn against them," SEPTA's chief labor counsel David L. Cohen told The Philadelphia Inquirer last week. Hours before the union announced its new June 1 deadline, the TWU filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, charging SEPTA with failure to bargain in good faith. "[SEPTA] is bargaining from a fixed position, and that's not even negotiating. That's something else," Bodner said. For several reasons, a strike in June would put pressure on SEPTA management to settle, Brookens said. Representatives of the Republican and Democratic National Committees plan to visit Philadelphia in June to evaluate the city as a potential site for the 2000 political conventions 2000. A June strike might press area politicians to push for a settlement. Also, Philadelphia's 6th annual Welcome America bash is set to run from June 26 to July 5. Last year's event injected over $15 million to the economy and brought in 2.5 million people. According to the union, a transit strike might cause tension in the city and make it less desirable to visit. June also traditionally ranks as SEPTA's biggest month for ridership and passenger revenues. Last year, average daily revenues for the month of June topped $785,000, while revenues raised in other months fell below $700,000. SEPTA's fiscal year ends on June 30. In order to secure state funding, the management must complete several projects that are part of an improvement program. A June strike could make completion of those projects impossible.

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