SEPTA Workers in the City Are on Strike

Nearly 5,000 SEPTA workers are off the job after the transit union couldn’t reach a deal with management.

Station Closed sign at Spruce Street entrance

The gate to the underground concourse at Spruce Street shows a sign put on in advance of the SEPTA strike | Photo: Dan McQuade

As threatened, SEPTA workers in the city walked off the job at midnight. City buses, the Broad Street Subway, the Market-Frankford El, West Philly and Route 15 trolleys are out all of service indefinitely. Regional Rail is the only service running in the city for Tuesday morning’s rush hour.

“Our membership voted to go on strike if we did not reach a new agreement by midnight on October 31,” TWU Local 234 President Willie Brown said in a midnight release from the union. “Despite months of constructive and innovative proposals from our side of the table, management has refused to budge on key issues including safety issues that would save lives and not cost SEPTA a dime. There is no new agreement, so we are on strike.”

More than 5,000 workers are off the job. It is the 11th strike in SEPTA’s history, and the first since 2009. That strike lasted six days. At issue in this year’s strike are healthcare costs and pension payments for SEPTA workers. Union workers also say drivers are not getting enough rest between shifts. Instead of reporting for work today, SEPTA workers will be reporting to the picket lines. TWU said drivers would finish their routes tonight before striking.

“The decision by TWU president Willie Brown leaves thousands of SEPTA customers without the transit services they rely on for travel to-and-from work, school and medical appointments,” SEPTA said in a release. “In doing so, Mr. Brown walked away from a contract offer that would have provided his members pay raises, enhances pension benefits, maintained health care coverage levels and continued job security, while also remaining fair and affordable for the taxpayers and riders who fund SEPTA.”

If the strike looks like it will continue through November 8th, SEPTA said it will attempt to enjoin the strike and make workers return to the job for Election Day.

All city busesAll suburban buses
Market-Frankford ElRegional Rail
Broad Street Subway/Ridge SpurTrolley Routes 101 and 102, Norristown High-Speed Line
Trolley Routes 10, 11, 13, 15, 34 and 36CCT Connect, LUCY

“I urge residents to have patience during this period,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “We expect that traffic will be greatly impacted, so make alternate travel arrangements as soon as you are able, including carpooling, walking and biking. Check with your employer about the possibility of a flexible work schedule to avoid the rush hours. And please — check on elderly neighbors who reply on SEPTA for trips to the grocery store or doctor. This period won’t be easy, but by pulling together as a community we can lessen the difficulties for everyone.”

In a release earlier Monday night, SEPTA reported “progress” in the talks. Earlier in the day, sides couldn’t even agree on whether talks were looking good. On Saturday, TWU Local 234 said SEPTA “storm[ed] out” of contract talks. Both sides got back to the table again before the end of the weekend, but couldn’t reach a deal before the deadline tonight.

The strike is expected to be a mess for commuters. The School District says 60,000 students in the city (from private, private and charter schools) rely on SEPTA. About 903,100 people use SEPTA buses, subways and trolleys in the city on an average weekday. Officials are worried the strike could hurt turnout on Election Day next week, though SEPTA says it may be able to force workers on the job for that day.

“Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania residents rely on SEPTA to travel each day… this will create extreme hardships for the city and for businesses,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement about the strike. “I have spoken at length with both sides and I continue to urge them to come together and continue talking until a compromise is reached.”

SEPTA has released a guide for riders as to what they should do during the strike. In an attempt to capitalize on the SEPTA strike, several transport companies have slashed rates or expanded service. Uber has broadened its UberPOOL ride-sharing to cover the entire SEPTA system as of Tuesday morning, expanding its level of coverage from 293 to 2,672 square miles. Lyft said it will offer discounts to new users. Zipcar is offering $5 an hour car rentals on 100 cars that are near SEPTA stops. Indego is providing unlimited parking and surplus bike capacity at selected sites throughout the day.

Both sides said they hoped to restart negotiations soon.