Fact-Checking the SEPTA Strike: Three Claims Debunked

No, SEPTA doesn't strike every year. And maybe you shouldn't be so quick to criticize just SEPTA workers.

SEPTA station closed, 13th street

The entrance to the 13th Street El stop is closed on the first day of the SEPTA strike. | Photo: Dan McQuade

After the clock struck midnight this morning and close to 5,000 of SEPTA’s unionized workers went on strike in Philadelphia, the city was (characteristically) quick to react.

While we endure transportation madness, many people are jumping on social media to complain and make claims about the strike, but some of what’s being said isn’t necessarily true.

Claim #1: SEPTA workers strike every year.

SEPTA does not go on strike every year. There was a one-day Regional Rail strike by electricians and engineers in June 2014, but those workers are not part of TWU. The last time TWU went on strike was 2009. Before that, it was 2005. According to NBC10, this is the 11th time there has been a public transportation shutdown in Philadelphia.

Claim #2: SEPTA workers are entirely at fault.


Many people are also quick to blame SEPTA workers for the strike, rather than see it as a two-sided dilemma, with both sides – meaning both TWU and SEPTA management – bearing responsibility for not reaching an agreement.

Transport Workers Union Local 234 has – for weeks – publicly threatened to strike if a new contract was not agreed upon by the time the current contract expired at midnight. TWU members are asking the cash-strapped transit agency for more downtime between shifts and better pension and healthcare packages. Both sides – union workers and SEPTA management – spent much of October attempting to bargain on a new contract. How much progress they’re making now isn’t exactly clear, despite the fact that Gov. Tom Wolf has urged both sides to reach an agreement multiple times.

Claim #3: SEPTA workers don’t care about the fact that you have a job to get to.

This claim is ultimately an opinion and a generalization. The strike heavily affects an estimated 903,100 people who use SEPTA’s buses, trolleys and subways in the city on the average weekday. It also affects other commuters who have to use busier streets and overwhelmed Regional Rail services. It’s certainly not easy on those who rely on public transportation as a cost-effective mode of travel, seeing as private, individualized options can be quite costly. Plus, if the strike lasts until Election Day, it’ll make it harder for people to get to the polls to vote.

TWU president Willie Brown said he was “sorry” about the inconvenience but that the strike was “the only tool we have available to us” in negotiating a new contract, according to the Inquirer.

As far as contract negotiations go, one source with knowledge of the talks told the Inquirer that discussions are largely centered on pension changes, in addition to healthcare coverage.

According to the newspaper, union workers are complaining that health care hikes could have upped their contribution from $552 a year to as much as $6,000 a year for medical coverage equivalent to what they were receiving, while SEPTA management argues that workers currently have a generous health care plan that costs just $46 per month. Workers are also complaining about the fact that pensions are capped at $50,000 for workers and not managers, the Inquirer reports.

But it’s not just those topics at hand. A third topic has a lasting impact on the safety of the very commuters who are complaining about the short-term consequences of the strike.

Transportation operators are frustrated that, under the old contract, they weren’t afforded enough downtime between shifts, which led to insufficient bathroom breaks and “fatigue issues that cause safety issues for our operators – and for the passengers they serve,” Brown said in a press release.

Tired, unhappy and overworked drivers = potentially dangerous transit. That’s a sentiment that many Twitter users could get behind, seeing as it directly affects them, and some expressed their support for the workers today.




Follow @ClaireSasko on Twitter.