Obama Orders SEPTA Strikers Back to Work

Following a request earlier today by Gov. Tom Corbett, President Obama signed an executive order this evening that forces striking SEPTA Regional Rail engineers and electrical workers back on the job for the next 240 days while an arbitration board attempts to craft a settlement. Rail service is set to resume for tomorrow’s regularly scheduled first runs.

UPDATE: SEPTA Regional Rail Is on Strike

UPDATE, Saturday morning: It’s official:

ORIGINAL: In the event of a SEPTA strike this weekend by regional rail operators, SEPTA has released its contingency plans. A strike by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) could begin as early as 12:01 a.m. Saturday morning.

A strike would only cause the shutdown of regional rail train lines. There is an alternate service page to search for alternate stations on your route. Travelers headed to the airport can take the Broad Street Line to Snyder and transfer to the 37 bus, or Route 108 from 69th Street. Or, y’know, a taxi.

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Willie Brown Is a Changed Man

An observation: The Willie Brown of 2014 is not the Willie Brown of 2009.

Don’t misunderstand: They’re similar enough that it won’t really be a surprise if Brown eventually leads his union, TWU 234, on a strike that ends up shutting down SEPTA and inconveniencing tens of thousands of commuters sometime in the next couple of weeks.

But whereas the Willie Brown of 2009 seemed like he couldn’t strike fast enough — remember, TWU waited only until the World Series was over, then went on strike without any notice to the commuting public — the Willie Brown of 2014 genuinely seems like he’d like to avoid a work stoppage.

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Race and the Roots
of Philly Transit Strikes

In this Aug. 6, 1944 file photo an armed soldier stands guard in the back of a trolley in Philadelphia. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent troops to break up a strike by transit workers who were protesting the hiring and promotion of African-Americans. (AP Photo/John Lindsay, File)

In this Aug. 6, 1944 file photo an armed soldier stands guard in the back of a trolley in Philadelphia. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent troops to break up a strike by transit workers who were protesting the hiring and promotion of African-Americans. (AP Photo/John Lindsay, File)

As this is being typed, the news reports about contract negotiations between SEPTA and Transport Workers Union Local 234 sound increasingly optimistic. One of the main sticking points, pensions, has been resolved, and both the transit agency and TWU Local 234 head Willie Brown have issued statements saying that they hope a strike can be averted.

Yet some issues, including health care and worker surveillance, remain unresolved, and the union still stands ready to take a vote to strike when contracts for two TWU 234 suburban bargaining units expire on April 7th.

You may recall that initial strike threat was announced with incendiary language from Brown. Many, including this writer, found that rhetoric off-putting, or worse. But, as with so much else in this city, if you dig down far enough, you might just hear the ghosts of the past raising their voices through the mouth of Brown.

In this case, the ghosts are those of a racially motivated walkout that brought the TWU onto the local labor scene — and Federal troops onto the city’s streetcars.

The two events are connected: The TWU had just won the right to represent Philadelphia’s transit workers in 1944 — right in the middle of a three-year fight to get the Philadelphia Transportation Company (which ran buses and trolleys in the city) to end discrimination against black workers.

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Interview: Willie Brown Doesn’t Want a SEPTA Strike — but He’s Ready to Have One Anyway

An employee of Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority raises his fist in the air, Friday, Oct. 28, 2005, while entering a SEPTA bus depot in north Philadelphia. | AP Photo, Joseph Kaczmarek

An employee of Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority raises his fist in the air, Friday, Oct. 28, 2005, while entering a SEPTA bus depot in north Philadelphia. | AP Photo, Joseph Kaczmarek

It’s going to be a scary weekend for commuters in the Philadelphia region: The final contracts between SEPTA and its unions expire at midnight Sunday. The unions haven’t declared they’ll go on strike then — assuming the two sides still can’t settle a contract — but many residents were caught by surprise in 2009 when a SEPTA strike broke out suddenly after the last home game of the Phillies-Yankees World Series that year.

Willie Brown, the high-profile head of TWU 234, SEPTA’s largest union, won’t declare a strike deadline. He says he doesn’t want a strike. But he’s willing to have one if the two sides can’t get a contract. He talked to Philly Mag this week.

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SEPTA Plans for Midnight Strike

UPDATE 1:55 pm: 6ABC says a strike unlikely tonight:

A union source told Action News’ David Henry that despite the skipped bargaining session Friday morning, a transit strike is very unlikely this weekend, and would remain unlikely until contracts with two other unions representing SEPTA workers expire on April 6th.

The source cautioned against reading anything into union negotiators’ absence from Friday morning’s session, Henry reported. The source said union negotiators were simply not prepared for the 9:00 a.m. session after bargaining late into the night Thursday night.

ORIGINAL: Fox 29 reports SEPTA is planning for 4,700 Philadelphia bus drivers, subway and trolley operators and maintenance workers to strike at midnight. Union reps didn’t show up for today’s scheduled talks.

At a news conference held late Friday morning, SEPTA disclosed its contingency plans. In the event of a work stoppage, all city bus, trolley and subway lines will be discontinued. Some suburban buses will have changes.

The Market-Frankford, Broad Street and Broad-Ridge Spur lines will also not run.

A strike would not, however, affect service on the Regional Rail lines.

We at Philly Mag have made our own preparations! Christopher Sawyer has warned that a strike might hurt SEPTA’s credibility, while I wrote earlier this month how the union can inconvenience commuters without sacrificing worker solidarity. We’re planning on a lot more walking, in any case.

Dear SEPTA Union: This Is Your Last Stop

An employee of Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority raises his fist in the air, Friday, Oct. 28, 2005, while entering a SEPTA bus depot in north Philadelphia. | AP Photo, Joseph Kaczmarek

An employee of SEPTA raises his fist in the air, Friday, Oct. 28, 2005, while entering a bus depot in north Philadelphia. | AP Photo, Joseph Kaczmarek

So, like my occasional flare-ups of hemorrhoids, I see the Transport Workers of America Local 234 has reared its ugly butt once again. Anyone who lives in Philadelphia for a given length of time will eventually encounter the major inconvenience of a transit strike. These things happen with regular frequency, like the Olympics. It disrupts the city, throws hundreds of thousands of commuters into chaos, and it’s accepted as a fact of life. In fact, TWU234 is the most strikiest union there is in Philadelphia.

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SEPTA Strike Preparations Underway, Says Transport Workers Union

septa-strike-twu-local-234-union

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.” Read more »