A fall-out between SEPTA management and union workers left students scrambling for alternate means of transportation Monday.
The Regional Rails, along with LUCY and CCT Connect, however, remain operating, and are the sole methods for mass transit, and the Temple community has been encouraged to utilize these services. These transit systems will continue to run because they are contractually bound to never “interrupt service,” according to SEPTA Operations Planner Amy Valentin, who warned that rail platforms are likely to be crowded.
Yesterday, 10 people swarmed Valentin as she stood on the Temple Regional Rail platform yesterday evening. “People don’t really know where to go, so we are directing them before they even get on the trains,” Valentin said, tossing her hands into the air. “The first few days will be tough, but we have been preparing for this for a year and a half … but you’re going to have to bear with us, especially in the middle of this week.”
Valentin and three other workers checked transpasses and tickets on the platform because the commuter volume on the trains limited conductors to collect fares and direct confused commuters.
Jessica Kenner, a freshman computer science major, usually takes the Broad Street line home to Center City. Monday, she found herself waiting on the platform, much like other commuters who were left stranded by the temporarily defunct buses and subways. “I’m confused, I didn’t know what to take to get home,” she said. “This is crazy.”
But, in the event that the strike surpasses a week, the Regional Rails have a long-term plan. They will continue service for the disabled and will continue to run on the current schedules with some adjustments. “We have also added additional train cars and have turned express trains into locals,” Valentin said.
SEPTA is warning daily commuters on the Regional Rail to prepare for crowded platforms and late trains filled to capacity. An interruption in service of the subways and high-speed lines will require commuters to find alternate means of getting into the city. According to SEPTA, the Regional Rail lines are the “best alternative” for traveling in the absence of other transit systems.
The strike’s impact on Temple’s community
Students, faculty and community members braced themselves for the strike by preparing in advance. It was the ultimate scramble, yet somehow, Temple commuters were able to remain patient through the first day of the strike.
Even senior public relations major Minah Uqdah remained patient through her second SEPTA strike. She was a student at Wagner Middle School in West Oak Lane in 1998 during SEPTA’s last stoppage, which spanned 40 days. “I’ve had a lot of preparation for this since I’ve experienced it before,” she said. “In middle school, kids would cut class at noon to catch the [number of limited] buses home, but now that I’m a senior, not coming to class doesn’t cut it.”
To help, some professors bent the rules in their classes.
Professor Joseph Mclaughlin, who teaches a Monday morning section of American state and local politics, was prepared for the impending strike and found a way to move on with his class’s scheduled test.
“On Friday I reminded my students of the strike,” Mclaughlin said, “and had them take their test online.” Most of his students took the test at home. “A handful showed up [to class] anyway and I directed them to find a computer.”
Others were not as sympathetic. Jian Wang, a public speaking teaching assistant, warned students about the strike but, “moved on with class.” When asked about attendance in his classes, he laughed and said, “I still had a handful that didn’t show up.”
Professors and faculty were also affected.
Francis Uhuegho, a specialist with Computer Services, decided to drive to work rather than take the regional rail. Uhuegho expected traffic to be affected by the strike and so allotted an extra half hour for his commute.
In order to absorb the influx of people driving to campus, parking regulations were relaxed. “Everything has been surprisingly under control. I think Temple has handled it correctly,” said parking attendant Mohamed Islen, who has worked on Lot 6 near Annenberg Hall for eight months. “It’s been busy today, but I’m sure it’ll be even busier tomorrow.” The rates were reduced from $9 a day to $5 for carpoolers or $7 for single occupants who bear Owl Cards.
Students also thwarted the pains of the system’s stoppage by staying the night at their friends’ dorms and apartments on campus.
“I took the regional rail this morning,” said Karen Bergmann, a junior marketing major. “I’m planning on staying over [my boyfriend’s] house for a few days, but I can’t live there forever.”
How this happened:
Two of SEPTA’s major labor unions, the Transport Workers Union Local 234 and the United Transportation Union Local 1594, which represent approximately 5,300 workers, announced Monday morning that its workers walked off the job because SEPTA did not present an acceptable contract agreement. The unions are pushing for reform in healthcare costs, wages and other non-economic issues. Currently, union workers are not required to pay for the cost of their health insurance premiums. Workers say that they have taken other sacrifices, such as a decrease in wages, so that SEPTA could fully cover their health care.
SEPTA originally asked for workers to pay 20 percent of their health care premiums. Now they are asking employees to pay 5 percent.
“We are waiting for SEPTA to honor the deal they’ve been offering for the past 30 years,” said TWU spokesman Bob Bedard prior to the deadline. “It’s a marriage, it’s a covenant.”
As a result, all subway, bus and trolley services have been cancelled until a contract is agreed upon by both sides.
Bedard said SEPTA has had plenty of time to offer the union a revised contract. The original contract expired in March, and since then, the TWU has granted SEPTA three contract extensions.
SEPTA and the labor unions held their first major meeting last Monday, and several more followed. Both sides said little to no progress was made, and the strike date was set for Oct. 31, 12:01 a.m.
In an offer presented last Wednesday, SEPTA proposed a 9 percent pay increase over the next three years and a 5 percent medical plan premium payment, down from the current 20 percent. Union workers were still not satisfied.
Bedard said that while SEPTA is the fifth largest transit agency in the country, the wages its workers earn rank 18th nationwide.
Last week, the unions began running a negative ad campaign against SEPTA, claiming that the transit agency was forcing a strike due to the unfair treatment of workers. The commercial urged everyone to call SEPTA headquarters to demand a better contract for its employees.
SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney held a press conference last week in which he denounced the ads.
“To even acknowledge the allegations this public relations assassin has been making would give them some credibility, and we will not do that,” he said.
Alysha Brennan, Chris Stover and Christopher George Wink can be reached at TempleNews@GMail.com.