3 Ways Willie Brown Can Make the Public Less Angry About the Coming SEPTA Strike

We’re the hostages in this negotiation. It’s a tough way to build solidarity.

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Even in a union-dominated town like Philly, it’s hard to generate a lot of enthusiasm or sympathy for Transport Workers Local 234.

The union — which may be striking soon — has a few things going against it. SEPTA workers aren’t (ahem) always highly thought of in Philly anyway. They’re fighting for benefits, paid by us, that few of us would get in our own private sector lives. And when push comes to shove, the union’s trump card is to make you and me — the commuting and driving public — feel as much pain as possible. That’s what the strike is designed to do, after all.

We’re the hostage in these negotiations. It’s bound to produce some antagonism.

Still, I’d like to offer the transit union (and its chief, Willie Brown) a couple of pieces of advice for how to handle this next strike — if, indeed a strike occurs — to minimize the anger felt by the public. Assuming, of course, anybody in the union actually cares.

Three small requests:

Give us some warning this time: In 2009, it was awfully swell of the union to wait until the World Series was over before striking; had the six-day strike started any earlier — while the Yankees were in town — the black eye to the city would’ve been notorious. That was the good news.

The bad news was, nobody understood the strike would begin as soon as the Series was over. The chaos that resulted (as commuters gradually became aware that their buses and trolleys weren’t coming for them) was much greater than it needed to be. Then again, maybe that was the point. But it’s a rough way to generate solidarity.

Actually get out and strike: Yes, there were pickets here and there in 2009, but they seemed few and far apart, giving rise to suspicions that many SEPTA workers just wanted to have a couple of days off. If you want pay and benefits so badly you’ll strike over them, then work hard enough to be present at the pickets — show the public you, too, are making a sacrifice.

When it’s over, give something back to the community: Maybe you work with SEPTA to create a free day of ridership. Maybe the union makes a donation to city schools. Just something — something that makes riders feel like more than bargaining tools in all of this.

There will be no way to keep people from feeling anger if a strike does come. But there’s no reason to exacerbate the anger, either. Here’s hoping TWU understands that solidarity is a two-way street.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.

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