SEPTA workers vote to authorize strike, contract ends Oct. 31

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Workers for SEPTA have voted to authorize a strike next month if an agreement isn't reached on a new contract.

Officials of the Transport Workers Union Local 234 said members overwhelmingly gave strike authorization Sunday. A union representative said leadership and members made it clear "that there would be no extension."

"It shouldn't come to this, but it's the way it is around the country," said Larry Dickson, TWU 234 member.

Union members met in South Philadelphia Sunday for the latest on contract negotiations.

What they heard from President Willie Brown they didn't like.

The union says issues include pensions, health care and safety issues.

"They wanna take away our benefits. If they didn't touch management, why would they wanna touch ours?" said Shelley Taylor, TWU 234 member.

Some of the additional demands from the union are an increase in the cap at which pensions are calculated from $50-70,000 - plus they want higher wages.

President Brown says they voted to strike at the end of their current contract if those demands aren't met.

"We've been negotiating for a couple years now, and it appears SEPTA is not taking us seriously so we have to do what we have to do," said Brown, TWU 234 president.

If they do strike, there's a possibility it could still be in effect on the Nov. 8 Election Day.

"Yes we will! Yes we will! That's leverage for us," said Taylor.

The possibility of a strike shutting down the nation's fifth-largest rapid transit system already has some riders thinking of a backup plan.

"It's going to be a really hard time for people getting to work," said Tyrell King of West Philadelphia, adding he would probably have to walk all the way to work.

"Well I mean that's how I get to work in the morning so that would be terrible. Walking probably. It's like 30 blocks. It's a little far," said Jen Crow of West Philadelphia.

"I'm very dependent on SEPTA. I take SEPTA every morning to Center City," said Mark Scott of North Philadelphia.

A two-year pact in 2014 averted a threatened walkout by bus drivers, subway and trolley operators, cashiers and mechanics.

If ongoing negotiations fall through and employees make good on their threat, it would be the 10th strike in SEPTA's 50-year history - the most of any transit agency in the country.

The current contract covering more than 5,700 Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority workers expires at midnight on Oct. 31. Any walkout wouldn't begin until Nov. 1, and wouldn't affect Regional Rail lines.

This latest issue comes just weeks after the agency was forced to pull a third of its rail fleet out of service.

SEPTA released the following statement to Action News:

Taking a strike vote in advance of contract expiration is not out of the ordinary. As you know, both parties exchanged proposals on July 13 and have continued to meet in negotiations since that time. We remain hopeful as we work to bargain an agreement in the best interest of our employees, riders and the public.

Caught in the middle of it all, and desperately hoping for a resolution are riders like Paige Pettaway, a mother of two.

"It's bad, but it's like people can't work for free, so you know I understand a little bit," said Pettaway of Southwest Philadelphia.

Still, Pettaway says the people who are ultimately paying for this are riders.

"Think about your customers, too, before you know you make a drastic move like that. And its cold now so it's like you picked a fine time to decide you want to go on strike," said Pettaway.
Copyright © 2019 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.