SEPTA's largest union is on strike

November 3, 2009 8:59:54 PM PST
At 3:00 a.m. Tuesday most SEPTA service in Philadelphia came to a grinding halt as the Transport Workers Union went on strike.

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The sudden strike by Transport Workers Union Local 234 took many riders by surprise and all but crippled a transit system that averages more than 928,000 trips each weekday. The union represents more than 5,000 drivers, operators and mechanics of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

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"We don't deserve to wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning to find out if there's a strike," said Jeffrey Chandler, 49, who had to call a friend for a ride to SEPTA's regional rail line so he could get to his job as a hotel room attendant.

The union had threatened to go on strike during the World Series. But over the weekend Gov. Ed Rendell ordered the union and SEPTA to remain at the bargaining table or risk consequences. There had been no talk of an imminent walkout as recently as Monday evening.

But Willie Brown, the local's president, said workers decided to strike after both sides agreed that they had gone as far as they could in negotiations over salary, pension and health care issues. No new negotiations were scheduled Tuesday.

"We're very anxious to get back to the bargaining table ASAP," SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said. "We haven't heard back from them."

The following services will not run:

  • Broad Street Line and Broad-Ridge Spur
  • Market-Frankford Line
  • All City Transit bus, trolley and trackless trolley routes
  • All Frontier Division bus routes
The following services will run:
  • Regional Rail
  • Victory Division buses, with modifications for buses into Philadelphia; the Route 101 and 102 Trolley Lines, and the Norristown High Speed Line
  • LUCY service (Green and Gold), with regular routing from 30th Street Station to select University City destinations
  • Paratransit CCT Connect service for registered ADA and Shared Ride customers
During the strike, Philadelphia is easing some of its parking restrictions. MAP: Details about Philadelphia's parking changes.

Also, Philadelphia is offering shuttle service for city workers and jurors:

For: Philadelphia City Employees & Jurors

Shuttle pickup with parking lot available
Belmont Ave & South Concourse Drive, Fairmount Park
Columbus Blvd. & Spring Garden Street
Poplar St between 8th & 9th

Without parking

Spring Garden @ 8th & 10th
S. Broad St. @ Oregon, Snyder and Washington

This service willl run from 6:30 - 9:30 am, andi n the afternoon starting at 3:00 p.m.

SEPTA will keep customers updated on their website, http://www.septa.org. Information is also available through SEPTA Customer Service by calling 215-580-7800.

Months without a contract

TWU Local 234 represents about 5,500 drivers, operators and mechanics. Salaries currently range from $50,000 to $57,000 per year after four years.

Workers have been without a contract since the spring.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D) said the union just isn't facing reality.

"I don't know what folks are reading, but we are still in a recession, this is still the worst recession since The Great Depression, and folks need to get with the program. There is no money."

The Union, and others close to the negotiation, say SEPTA has the money - especially with an influx of $190-million of federal stimulus funds. They claim SEPTA, and the governor, are hiding the cash.

Strike impacts schools, suburbs

The effects of the strike were mitigated somewhat because Philadelphia schools are closed for Election Day; on an average weekday, about 54,000 public and parochial school students take SEPTA to school. The city also announced Tuesday that it was relaxing parking restrictions in some areas for the duration of the strike.

Public schools spokesman Fernando Gallard said the district, which serves nearly 162,000 students, will be open Wednesday and that employees are encouraged to use a district Web site to arrange car pooling.

"Our expectations are for students and employees to do their best to come to school," Gallard said. "We're just hoping for the best here."

The strike also affects buses that serve the suburbs in Bucks, Montgomery, and Chester counties. Regional rail service was still operating, but trains were delayed as they experienced higher-than-normal crowds.

The two sides had postponed a scheduled Sunday night meeting. They met again Monday at Rendell's regional office in Philadelphia. Maloney said the talks ended after union negotiators walked out at around midnight.

The union membership voted Oct. 25 to authorize a strike. They have been without a contract since March.

Union workers, who earn an average $52,000 a year, are seeking an annual 4 percent wage hike and want to keep the current 1 percent contribution they make toward the cost of their health care coverage.

SEPTA was offering an 11.5 percent wage increase over 5 years, with a $1,250 signing bonus in the first year, and increases in workers' pensions, Maloney said.

Given the economic downturn, layoffs and wage freezes in other sectors, the governor said Tuesday that SEPTA's offer was "sensational."

"It was a very good contract in the best of times," Rendell said. "It was, in my judgment, nuts to walk out. I think the SEPTA workers would have jumped at this."

A 2005 SEPTA strike lasted seven days, while a 1998 transit strike lasted for 40 days.

Frank Brinkman, a union member who does electronic work on an elevated SEPTA train, was out on the picket line early Tuesday. He said he was concerned about pension issues and changes to work rules.

"We've been ready since March 15," Brinkman said of the strike. "We're in here for the long haul."

He said the union didn't want to strike, but that SEPTA gave it no choice.

"We don't want to see anybody suffer," he said. "We have to stand up for our rights."

Motion to extend polling hours in Philly denied

An attempt to keep Philadelphia polling places open late because of a transit strike has been denied.

Judge Lori Dumas-Brooks denied a motion Tuesday by the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee, district attorney candidate Seth Williams and others to keep the polls open until 9 p.m.

The motion was prompted by an early morning strike by Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority workers. The strike came with little notice at 3 a.m. Tuesday, creating headaches for commuters who rely on SEPTA bus and subway service.

Attorney Sam Stretton says he may refile the motion later in the day if there's evidence the strike is keeping voters from reaching polling places.

A state Supreme Court seat and other judicial seats are up for grabs in Tuesday's election. Philadelphians will be voting in races for district attorney and city controller.

Associated Press reporters Patrick Walters and Kathy Matheson contributed to this report.

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