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

"We can get this contract settled," Willie Brown says.

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.

“We can get this contract settled,” Brown said in the press release. “We’re ready to accept binding arbitration rather than exercise our right to strike. It’s an option that works for the riders and for the taxpayers who make funding for mass transit possible.”

The union has previously offered to forfeit its right to strike in exchange for binding arbitration. SEPTA has declined, but Wednesday’s press release suggested that Brown believes he can rally the public — or, at least, get the public to blame SEPTA instead of the union for a strike — if the agency sticks to that position. Police, firefighters, and other city groups use the arbitration for their contracts.

“We’re ready to arbitrate,” Brown said in the press release. “The question is – why is SEPTA refusing to arbitrate?”

SEPTA’s response? Because no neutral third party can know the entire landscape of possibilities facing the agency — budget climate, agency plans, and more. The agency would prefer to negotiate a solution, spokeswoman Jerri Williams said.

“SEPTA believes negotiations should occur at the bargaining table with the parties involved,” she said.