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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SEPTA, Union Report Progress on Talks

6ABC reports: “Talks continue between SEPTA and union officials and both sides are optimistic that a strike will be adverted. The executive board of local 234 met Thursday night to discuss logistics for a possible strike Monday – if a deal with SEPTA can’t get done. Union president Willie Brown emerged from secretive talks around 8:30 p.m., saying a deal is imminent.”

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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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Union Rejects SEPTA Contract Offer, Wants Binding Arbitration

The last of several union contracts with SEPTA expires on April 6, and the head of the Transit Workers Union told the Daily News Thursday he’s not taking the current offer.

[TWU Local 234 president Willie] Brown told the Daily News yesterday that he won’t accept SEPTA’s initial offer of a five-year contract with no raises during 2014 and 2015, a 6 percent raise spread over the next three years, increased employee contributions to health care and no pension plan for new hires.

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With Contracts Set to Expire, SEPTA Union Says It Will Accept Arbitration

The union that represents 5,000 SEPTA workers vowed again Wednesday afternoon to forgo a strike in exchange for binding arbitration on unsettled issues between the agency and its employees.

TWU 234 sent out a press release pointing out that the last of three TWU/SEPTA contracts expires at midnight Sunday. Negotiators for both sides are scheduled to meet on Tuesday. Willie Brown, the union’s president, would not say if TWU would strike immediately at that time. “I’m still trying to get a contract,” he told Philly Mag.

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Six Design Ideas SEPTA Should Steal Now

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A recent article on The Atlantic Cities website made a point that is at once obvious and rarely made: Good design and strong imagery can attract more riders to mass transit.

Call it “branding” if you must, but the point remains: Easy-to-identify symbols and attractive stations and shelters make transit systems easier to spot and more pleasant to use. And a system that’s easier to spot and more pleasant to use will end up with more people using it.

This was the main point of my recent commentary elsewhere on how design does matter in transit, too. In it, I argued that SEPTA could stand improvement in that department, especially on its subway-elevated system and signage. Some readers agreed strongly with that argument, while others disagreed vehemently.

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