With only a week until the contract expires between the Transportation Workers Union and SEPTA, it looks increasingly likely that the public transportation organization will suspend service.
The union voted to authorize a strike last week, which could occur in November if the union cannot reach an agreement with SEPTA on a new contract by Halloween.
TWU President Willie Brown told Philadelphia Magazine that the union and SEPTA are in conflict over pension and health care issues.
“TWU Local 234’s recent vote to authorize a strike is not an unusual step in the course of negotiations,” SEPTA said in a statement. “SEPTA is committed to bargaining in good faith with TWU Local 234 on a new contract that is fair to customers, employees and the taxpayers.”
Jeff Kessler,SEPTA Youth Advisory Council executive chairman and a graduate student in both the Engineering and Law Schools, also said strike authorizations are not uncommon, and typically stem from negotiations over healthcare benefits and wage increases. Kessler said that authorizing a strike ahead of time is a commonly used strategyby the union during negotiations as a way of increasing their leverage over SEPTA.
“It’s not uncommon for the union to hold a strike authorization vote in advance of when they’re legally permitted to strike because there are rules that govern when they’re able to strike,” he said. “In this case the first day that they could strike would be when the contract expires, which would be Nov. 1st.”
Kessler said that he hopes the strike does not actually occur, adding that it seems as if all parties are trying to avoid that situation.
“It really just depends on what SEPTA and the union are able to agree upon,” he said.
Kessler added that SEPTA regularly deals with multiple unions, and that the company even has a labor relations department that deals specifically with union contract negotiations.
“Their entire staff is focusing on discussing this contract with the head of the TWU, Willie Brown, and their staff to effectively consider what are our options, what is or isn’t on the table and whether or not they’re able to come to terms before the end of their contract,” he said.
The main concern about this potential strike is the fact that it would take place so close to Election Day, Kessler said.
“If there were to be a strike, it’s not so much that it would affect people’s ability to get to their polling place via SEPTA, but for those that don’t have other means of travel to get to their jobs,” he said. “They would have to leave their homes earlier and probably arrive at home later which could prevent them from getting to the polls with enough time to vote before the polls close.”
Additionally, a strike by the TWU would have a substantial impact on transportation options in the city due to the union’s large size.
“The TWU is the largest of all of SEPTA’s unions,” Kessler said. “If that union were to go on strike, the Market-Frankford Line, all of the trolleys, the Broad Street Line and all of the buses that operate within the city of Philadelphia would be suspended.”
Kessler did not predict that a strike would interfere with voter turnout on Election Day, as the strike would have to last at least seven days for that to be an issue. He said the most recent strike in Philadelphia only lasted for one day and had minimal impact.
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