Union President: No SEPTA Strike This Week

Willie Brown said SEPTA and TWU Local 234 are as far apart as "California and Pennsylvania." The union president promised riders a 24-hour notice before a strike.

Willie Brown

TWU Local 234 president Willie Brown

Transit Workers Union Local 234 president Willie Brown said there won’t be a SEPTA strike this week, despite the unanimous strike authorization vote by the union on Sunday. He did say the two sides were as far apart as “California and Pennsylvania” — and that he’d make a decision on whether to strike later in the week.

After some cajoling by a reporter, Brown did agree to give riders a 24-hour notice before striking, avoiding a situation like the surprise 3 a.m. Tuesday strike in November 2009. Brown updated reporters on his side of the contract impasse at a press conference at TWU Local 234’s headquarters on North Second Street Tuesday afternoon.

Previously, Brown has said the best day to strike is on a Monday. He didn’t make any explicit promises beyond Friday, but with his 24-hour notice period it seems unlikely there will be a strike until at least Monday, November 3rd.

Brown blamed SEPTA for the sides being so far apart. “This is not about economics, unlike past contracts,” he said. “It’s about ego.” Brown said the union would accept binding arbitration if SEPTA were to accept it. The union has been working without a contract since March.

we-can-strike

In response to repeated queries on the possible impact of SEPTA being on strike on November 4th’s general election, Brown said he would not consider the impact of the election on his measure to strike. (“I’m independent,” he said when asked if such a move could harm the election chances of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf.)

Brown believes SEPTA can afford better terms than have been offered to the union. Sticking points on a new deal this year are pension, health care and the length of the deal.

According to the union, SEPTA’s latest deal would freeze pension benefits for five years, raise worker contributions to health plans to 10 percent. It’s also a five-year deal, which Brown says is almost essentially off the table (“I’ll never say never,” he said). TWU Local 234 says the 10-percent health care payment works out to an average of $2,636 a year for family coverage. SEPTA’s contract proposal would raise workers’ pay 6 percent over five years.

TWU’s latest message to its members uses fiery rhetoric against SEPTA management (emphasis theirs):

SEPTA thinks TWU members are second class citizens and we don’t have what it takes to fight them. As a result, SEPTA’s bargaining team has adopted classism as its guiding principle in the negotiations. They believe that the families of supervisory personnel are entitled to pension benefits in excess of $8,000 a month, but they want to cap our pension benefits at $2,500 a month. They think it’s OK to raise management’s wages 5%, or more, a year, while the people who do the work should accept average wage increases of less than 1% a year between now and 2019! In addition, SEPTA wants us to pay 10% of our health insurance premiums, while managers pay only 5% of the premium.

A strike seems likely still — in the past, Brown has said it’s a matter of “when” not “if.” Strike preparations were already underway in March. But Brown said if there is progress this week, talks could continue without a strike for a while.

“I can’t put odds on it,” he said. “But we’re very far apart.”

Below, via the union, a copy of SEPTA’s latest contract offer.

SEPTA's October 2014 contract proposal