Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump may have received a welcome gift from a very unlikely source: Philadelphia’s unionized transit workers.
For the past three days, employees of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) have been on strike, shutting down all of Philadelphia’s public buses, streetcars, and subway trains. Union workers are pushing for salary hikes of several thousand dollars, higher pensions with no benefit cap, and low contributions to their health care plan.
SEPTA has offered an average salary boost of $8,000 and an 8 percent pension boost, in exchange for increasing monthly health care contributions from $10 to $41 per month.
But the members of the Transport Workers’ Union say that offer isn’t enough and have even dismissed it as insulting.
That intransigence may not just hurt Philadelphia commuters and taxpayers. It could also be terrible news for Clinton.
It isn’t hard to see how the strike could undermine Clinton. In order to win Pennsylvania, Clinton needs to run up huge leads in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to offset pro-Trump votes in the less-populous countryside. Close to a million people in the Philadelphia metro area rely on SEPTA to get to work, and those people are more likely to be low-income and non-white.
If the strike is still going Tuesday, thousands of pro-Clinton voters may fail to get to the polls due to massive transportation gridlock. A poll of non-voters after the 2012 election found that about 5 percent failed to vote due to transportation problems; it stands to reason that if the strike is still going, that figure could be much higher in Philadelphia.
But even if the strike is resolved before Tuesday (or a judge orders workers back on the job), it could potentially do damage to Clinton. The strike has already caused chaos and massive traffic delays in the city, which could irritate and alienate many voters. If voters blame the chaos on left-leaning organized labor, some could be pushed into Trump’s camp (or at least out of Clinton’s). Similarly, if the strike ends thanks to the city making many costly concessions to the strikers, it could upset higher-income taxpayers in the city and push them towards Trump.
Even if the strike only costs Clinton a few thousand votes, that could be critical. Polls put Clinton fewer than four points ahead in the state, and the most recent polls have been even closer. If Trump continues to gain steam, he could be effectively tied come election day, and a few thousand votes could easily be a difference-maker.
And Pennsylvania is a state Clinton simply can’t afford to lose. With 20 electoral votes, it’s a critical component in Clinton’s electoral firewall. If Trump wins a surprise victory there, his path to 270 electoral votes becomes much simpler, and he can even afford to lose key states like Nevada and North Carolina while still having a viable chance at winning the election.
On the plus side for Clinton, Pennsylvania doesn’t have any early voting, so it isn’t suppressing voter turnout in Philadelphia by keeping residents from voting early.
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