Four SEPTA contracts are set to expire between now and April 7th, and the leadership of the Local 234 Transport Workers Union says that a SEPTA strike is looming if negotiations don’t go in its favor. “If negotiations fail,” reads a memo sent by TWU Local 234 to its members on Monday, “the unions representing SEPTA workers may all be on strike at the same time, idling bus, trolley, train and regional rail service for the first time ever.”
“The last thing we want is any type of service disruption,” SEPTA spokesperson Jerri Williams tells me. “We are at the table, and we are talking. We truly hope that’s not an action that they are considering, and we’d love to have the chance to continue talking.”
The main sticking points are cuts that SEPTA wants to make to workers' pension plans and retiree health insurance coverage, and the proposed elimination of two paid holidays.
TWU Local 234 is the largest and most powerful of the 17 unions representing SEPTA workers. Where it goes, so go the other unions. The four contracts in question cover approximately 5,400 workers. The first contract set to expire is the TWU City Division, which includes city buses and subways. That division has 4,713 members.
According to the memo, Local 234 president Willie Brown "told SEPTA at the bargaining table [that] the Authority's chances of getting such outrageous concessions are 'as likely as a fish drowning.'"
"Given SEPTA's total disregard for the well-being of our members and their families, Local 234 is now stepping up its preparations for a strike," the memo continues. Union representatives have contacted local supermarkets to "arrange for discounted food" for TWU members and their families should a SEPTA strike ensue.
"Get ready," the memo proclaims in large, bold letters. "When the time comes, we may have to act on short notice."
"We hope we can continue negotiations and come up with a contract that's beneficial for everyone," says Williams. "But we are preparing a service interruption plan, and that would be released to the public when appropriate."
Brown was president in 2009 when the union threatened to launch a SEPTA strike during the World Series, which was being played in Philly. In the end, the union waited until the series was over, and went on strike for just six days. (The SEPTA strike record, which we hope to never beat, is 108 days, set in 1983.) Brown lost reelection in 2010, but returned to his post in 2013. He was not immediately available for comment.
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