In their third strike in just over a decade, the approximately 5,000 members of the Transportation Workers Union Local 234 have halted work and, with it, nearly all of the city’s trolleys, subways and most buses.
The largely unanticipated move took effect at 3 a.m. Tuesday, exposing deep and bitter rifts between SEPTA management and TWA members over the workers’ contracts. Many Philadelphians were unprepared Tuesday morning when they awoke to learn that the public transportation they rely upon would not be running, forcing them to rapidly make other arrangements for the morning commute to work. Although Regional Rail lines are still operating, SEPTA reported widespread overcrowding and delays throughout the day.
“It’s very disappointing that the Union leadership would walk away from negotiations at a time when other Philadelphians are losing their jobs … taking pay cuts, taking furlough days and worrying about losing their pensions,” Luke Butler, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter, said in a interview with The Temple News.
“To inconvenience their fellow Philadelphians, who are trying to get to work or get around the city, in such a way is, frankly, outrageous,” he added.
Butler said the city had offered Monday night what it considered to be a very fair package: While wages would not be increased this year, the contract included a $1200 signing bonus for all TWA members. Annual raises, meanwhile, would have resumed the following year, ultimately amounting to an 11 percent increase over the five-year duration of the contract. The deal also provided for increased pension funding, all without any increase in healthcare charges.
During a time of drastically decreased revenue for the city, SEPTA claimed, these terms were exceptionally generous. But TWU leadership addressed this assertion in a newsletter to its members last month, pointing out that increased ridership has raised fare revenue by 30 percent. After taking state funding and federal stimulus money into account, they argued, the city could afford the wage increases.
Also of great concern to the union is SEPTA’s disregard of “picking rights”- the ability of workers being able to choose what equipment they worked with based on seniority. Additionally, a TWU newsletter sent out to its members last month cited “discrimination” against union workers, but the union leadership did not respond to requests to elaborate on that allegation.
Don Hoegg can be reached at email@example.com.