Philadelphia transit employees voted to authorize a strike next month if an agreement on a new contract isn’t reached with the city.
The Transport Workers Union Local 234, which represents more than 5,000 workers at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transport Authority (SEPTA), voted overwhelmingly in favor of authorizing a strike during a meeting Sunday morning inside a Philadelphia union hall. A second vote took place on whether the union would allow the current contract to be extended in order to forestall a strike.
The current contract, which was ratified in 2014, expires midnight Oct. 31. A walkout could take place immediately following the expiration, which would be the morning of Nov 1.
“We’re not looking at an extension, and we’re not interested in working without a contract,” union President Willie Brown said in a statement.
The strike would affect city bus, trolley and subway lines, but would not affect regional rail lines and service in areas outside the city, Philly.com has reported, according to city officials. Union leaders cited pension and health care issues as well as what was described by the union head as “safety and fatigue issues.”
“We remain hopeful as we work to bargain an agreement in the best interest of our employees, riders and the public,” SEPTA said in a statement. The transit agency also noted that strike authorization votes are not unusual
In 2014, members ratified a two-year contract that averted a threatened walkout by bus drivers, subway and trolley operators, cashiers and mechanics.
SEPTA employees went on strike in 2009, which disrupted service and cause massive traffic backups for area commuters. Then-Philadelphia Mayor Micheal Nutter said the city was “ambushed” by the 2009 strike. “You can’t put a dollar value on the disruption and aggravation,” he told reporters at the time. He described the strike as “unfair to the citizens of the city.”
Local 234 is a chapter of the powerful Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), which is a union founded in 2914 by subway workers in New York City. Currently, the union represents 116,000 transport workers nationwide, and is an affiliate of the American Federation of Laborers and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). Philadelphia’s transport workers established Local 234 in 1944
A strike of the workers would be a serious disruption to the Philadelphia region, which is home to 3.9 million people. SEPTA is the fifth largest transit system in the country, with nearly 300 stations, 196 routes, 2,300 vehicles (buses, trolleys, vans) and over 450 miles of track.
Interesting to note is that the strike could coincide with the United States Presidential Election.
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