SEPTA Strike: I walked to work today

SEPTA is on strike.

I spent a lot of my walk to work today thinking about the strike. And although there is a lot more that could be said, more than anything I was happy that in this country--which has been ravaged by corporate interests and a rapid right-wing--that every day people still have some power to organize for change.

Don't get me wrong, the strike sucks. And more than anything this strike is going to hurt low-income and working folks a lot. At a time when things are already pretty bad. And I recognize my privilege to be able to deal relatively easily with a strike as an able-bodied person with no kids who lives four miles from work.

But the onus of the burden to end this strike is not on the workers of Local 234 but on SEPTA management. They are to blame for the inconvenience.

Yes it does annoy me that the strike happened just before rush hour. And the fact is we have all had many experiences with rude SEPTA drivers doesn't help. But the timing of the strike was likely strategic, and there are just as many nice drivers as there are rude ones. And rejecting an offer of a pretty pitiful pay increase for not-that-well-paid workers who do really important work makes sense to me (remember, according to the Inky, the highest paid, longest serving bus driver makes only about $50,000).

But that stuff is all beside the point anyhow.

More than anything you have to support this strike because you have to support unions.

As union density has declined, we have all suffered. We should ALL be in unions. We all need the help of our co-workers sometimes to bargain with bosses who are unfair. Can you imagine how much better "customer service" would be at just about any store if workers were paid and treated better?

And seriously, how often do you see a group of individuals organizing for collective action and making real change? How often? Not much in my opinion. Especially compared to the victories that very rich and very greedy corporations achieve.

SEPTA management may not be a corporation, but it's been run like one when it comes to top-heavy management. And it's an agency that has not often served the city of Philadelphia nearly as well as it should considering how many riders live here. Instead, it's been a suburban and republican patronage mill. Um, and visionary transit and economic development-oriented planning at's that going?

The tendency of some people who are NOT right-wing folks at all to blame workers astounds me.

Like many Philadelphians, my own middle-class existence can be traced back to the economic stability that my father's union and his father's union before him provided to our family.

The right to organize, collectively bargain and strike if necessary is incredibly important. Lots of us have been able to build paths out of poverty and into the middle-class because of unions. And that path should not be cut off for anyone today.

We can have a conversation later about how much more organized labor needs to do to actually engage and organize the thousands of working class and low-income Philadelphians who have no hope right now of ever joining a union and who will suffer badly because of this strike. That's an important convo to have too.

But today, I support Local 234.

In solidarity with TWU Local 234

They've been carrying you and everybody else to work and school safely without a contract since March.

It couldn't go on forever.

People who are doing their jobs well deserve a fair contract, and everybody deserves the right to organize and bargain. Sometimes that means the right to strike.

Local 234 showed their independence and their commitment to making Philly better when they supported Brett Mandel for City Controller in the spring.

Besides, it's a beautiful day for walking (and knocking on doors).

Walking is lovely exercise, Philly.

One point to add

Can you imagine how much better "customer service" would be at just about any store if workers were paid and treated better?

Ray, absolutely agree with you one everything even the phrase above. I do think that in the aggregate happier workers are friendlier, better workers. But there has to be some way to evaluate "customer service" objectively and remove those individual workers - not arbitrarily but through a process* - who consistently fall short no matter how well treated or highly paid they are. And that's something the unions that all of us should be in should also be in favor of. If the public perceived that union leadership were on the same page with them on that point, then I think the PR war in situations like this would definitely turn against the management.

*And I'm sure there is some kind of "process" for such worker evaluation - including multiple verbal and written warnings - but I don't think there's a lot of faith among the public that the process works or has the backing of the unions.

good point dan

but to be fair the current system of complaining about SEPTA workers is not very objective either. and i am not sure that this is even something being discussed right now at the negotiating table. do you know?

"Especially compared to the

"Especially compared to the victories that very rich and very greedy corporations achieve."

What about the fat cat union bosses and union thugs? Unions have become totally worthless to the typical worker, all those dues end up going to rich and greedy politicians and fat cat union bosses, or the guy who sits out with that stupid inflatable rat.


There is a lot of thoughtful commentary on this thread, that raises legitimate questions about the timing of the strike, the terms of SEPTA's offer, its impact on low income people and the election, etc., vs. the rights of workers to bargain and strike for what they think is fair. But this comment is just a dumb regurgitation of tired, ancient anti-worker rhetoric. "Fat cat union bosses?" "Union thugs?" "Totally worthless?" I've been a union official for almost 30 years; I am not fat in any sense of the word, nor am I a thug, nor do any of the hundreds of union staff and leadership I've known in my life fit those descriptions. Nor would our members, who call us for help every day, and look to us for representation and leadership, recognize your characterization of us or our organizations. As teachers tell you starting in grammar school, write what you know. Clearly, you know zero on this topic.

The timing was SPECTACULARLY poor

I support unions. I think many of the older unions have a major public perception issue which from my privileged perspective they do little to address, but in the end, organized labor is good for society and the economy. We should not begrudge unionized workers their healthcare benefits as ours dwindle, but use their example to remind people what real healthcare plans look like.

But here's the thing: if the PA Congressional delegation gets one or more additional Republican members for the next ten years because TWU wouldn't stay at the bargaining table for one more day over seniority-based work rules for mechanics, and went on strike at 3 AM of Election Day, suppressing already low turnout in the key Democratic stronghold in the Commonwealth, tipping the PA Supreme Court balance and thus the redistricting authority balance to the Republicans, I am going to be royally pissed. So short sighted.

Unions have a right to exist

Per the FLA and a century of Supreme Court decisions. I don't argue with that, at all. I wish my own trade was unionized so I could fight off needless Indian outsourcing.

But I wonder if TWU ever thought about how many people might quit SEPTA after this, not come back, and Harrisburg fails to deliver on cash support to SEPTA, necessitating layoffs and pink slips? That won't be pretty, either.

TWU is the wrong kind of union to support

TWU had an excellent deal on the table:
11.5% pay raise over 5 years (actually more when compounded).
11% increase in pension contribs.
No increase in the 1% of the health care costs they contribute to.
$1,250 immediate signing bonus.

That is an extraordinary package, especially when you consider that just a month ago we almost had all of our libraries and parks closed. And Willie Brown walked away. Without asking his members to vote on it.

Unions have done a lot of good for the middle class worker in the past. Some still do today. TWU workers deserve a fair contract but TWU #234 are extorting thieves, who are stealing from the taxpayers. While the average worker suffers, and our city and state grapple with crushing financial difficulties, these guys use their monopoly to stick their hands in our pockets deeper and deeper. We simply can't afford it.

Strike not in TWU's interest

It's been fairly well-documented that, during a transit strike, ridership drops precipitously, and takes a long time to return to pre-strike levels, if it ever does. In other words, the longer a strike goes, the worse it is for TWU's membership.



So much for going green with SEPTA.

I saw gridlock even on Cecil B. Moore today. I took a pollutionmobile to get to work and will continue to do that until the strike ends.

And you can forget the carbon credits pyramid scheme; because I'm not buying any. That's what my Transpass was for.

If the offer is as it is

If the offer is as it is stated, I can understand Gov. Rendell's frustration. It was a very good offer--with raises that, frankly, no one in the private sector is getting at this time (or anytime in 2008 or 2009).

Moreover, while walking to and from work for me is not something new or particularly difficult, or for folks within my general age group (such as Ray), that is not the case for everyone. I think about the folks who work in my office who arrived late, leaving early and having to car pool, find alternate sources of transportation or walk at night through some pretty scketchy places. I think about the fact that they did not have an opportunity to plan as all of the public statements were very positive this week.

Striking at 3:00 AM is not fair to Philadelphians. I support the right to unionize, to organize and to strike--but I do not support actions that hurt working people. This is a disservice to working people--whether they are in a union or not.

As for me, I will walk, take a cab or car pool in my 2.5 to work this week (and maybe next). It's easy for me as I can afford to take the hit on my budget or am able to walk 2.5 miles with ease. But, the 65 year old legal assistant across the hall who lives in the Northeast, she is just screwed I guess. But who cares about her.

What about the disabled?

Not everyone can qualify for CCT, and even that was overtaxed today.

My neighbor couldn't get to her doctor's appointment. She can reschedule, but what about people who are on chemo or radiation and can't get to their appointments in CC or Fox Chase?


Is a big evil multinational corporation?

That's odd. I thought SEPTA was an amalgam of the vestiges of private transit companies, all of which failed and went BK, which were then consolidated and put under administration for the public good.

At least that's what the guy who was smokin' weed in his car who offered me a ride to work today said.

I find it interesting that

I find it interesting that the Governor asked TWU not to strike until after the Philly World Series games; but apparently he felt no compulsion to urge them to wait until after Election Day.

All the evidence suggests

All the evidence suggests that this was a surprise move by the TWU and was completely unexpected, but the TWU has been pretty stingy with the public relations so it's hard to know for sure.

In any case, polling places are usually very localized so I doubt that this affected turnout very much.

This strike hurts unions, not helps

Let's talk contracts: The teachers in the Philadelphia School District haven't had a contract for months and are forbidden by law to strike:

Let's talk pay: Septa drivers make $50,000 after their first four years. A normal teacher hired in the School District of Philadelphia will start off at around $40,000 and also reach $50,000 in four years, maxing out to around $60,000 in a few more years. Not only are teachers far more skilled and crucial workers, they have to deal with much more stress than a bus driver. Maybe we could pay our teachers more if we didn't have to over-pay our bus-drivers.

And seriously: $50,000 is low-pay for a bus driver? Get real. Study some economics. There isn't a magical pot of gold from which our politicians can draw unlimited funds to pay our public workers.

There are descent SEPTA workers who do a great job and work hard for their money. Yet from too many Septa trolley and bus drivers we get consistently poor service. I have blind friends who would have to beg the bus drivers to announce the stops they are paid $50,000 a year to announce anyway. From trolley drivers who forget to look at the back door, causing passengers to miss their stop, to token sales clerks who are rude and regularly yell at their customers, anybody who rides SEPTA will have stories to tell. Contrast this to friends from other cities who tend to have much better things to say about their transportation services.

Finally, this strike does more harm than good for unions. It is a prime example of unions promoting inefficiency and incompetence, rather than workers rights and fair wages. This is why the majority of the public is not on their side, and Local 234 has given unions a bad reputation.

To Local 234: Give us clean stations, trains, and buses, give us polite and efficient customer service, give us drivers who will announce the stops for the benefit of those who are vision impaired or unfamiliar with the locations, and give us more bus-drivers who will treat cyclists with respect, and then make your case to the public and give us fair warning if you are going to strike so we can plan accordingly. Maybe then we'll be on your side.

p.s. Local 234: Don't call our mayor a "little caesar". He won the election, which means he represents the choice of the people, and he has the respect of most of us for doing a great job in difficult times. When you belittle him with such adolescent name-calling, you show us how seriously we should take your cause.

I dunno...

I'd be interested to know how someone quantifies the impact this trike will have on "unions," but I would venture a guess that Ronald Regan, the NLRB, global trade, CEO greed, unrestrained corporate growth have all had much more impact than one strike one city could ever have.

I know people are pissed they can't get to work. It does suck. But there is some element of the anti-TWU stuff I have heard that just seems anti-union. That's a bit self-defeating since most of us in Philadelphia would benefit from more union power not less. A lot of folks speak up over the perceived foibles of unions (and certainly the trades and their virtual exclusion of women and people of color have not helped) but a whole lot of smart people out there seem to be missing the forest for the trees on this one.

I do

This isn't really about the current state of unions, as much as one might try to romanticize the situation. This is about SEPTA, that it is broken, and that the union is part of the problem, not the solution.

Unions have served this country well, and I am with you on your nostalgia. But I'm not going to get behind Local 234 just because it is a union. Is their cause just? I wish I could say yes, but I don't believe in rewarding incompetence. Let them get their act together, then make their case, and probably I would back them.

I support the teacher's union above Local 234. Your article from last year on this topic was very welcomed, but they still have no contract and are restrained by the law from striking. Shouldn't we be hearing more about their plight, or do we just focus on the loudest most strident voice in the room?

yeah so

it's not a race to the bottom. teachers were allowed to strike in Philadelphia before the takeover and did. it is absolutely terrible that they can't now.

it's ok to disagree, but i think this strike is very much about the state of unions.

and this notion of "incompetence" is kind of weird to me. what exactly does it mean, how does one measure incompetence and what are its causes? to suggest that everything is the union's fault seems off to me. and it pretty conveniently lets SEPTA management and its board off the hook.

so this:

Nope, not a race to the bottom, but not a bottomless treasury either. That 6 million dollars our governor is offering, that could really help our school districts.

I outlined examples of incompetence in my initial reply, but you make a good point so let me be more clear. By "incompetence" I am suggesting the mean of the quality of service we get from SEPTA. One reader wrote that they get us safely to and fro, and thank you for that, but if that is your full measure of competence then so be it. By mean of quality, I mean that for every 300,000 trips taken each weekday, how many of those trips end up causing frustration, delay, or excessive inconvenience?

Let's start with the obvious: many disabled individuals find SEPTA a poor transportation service, and have for years. Just a few months ago, there was a protest related to this issue:

This is more than just inconvenience, it hinders their ability to live mobile lives, getting to work places, etc.

I can also bring up personal experience:

I myself have missed stops within the last two months because a) the driver didn't announce the stop and I was unfamiliar with area, b) the (trolley) driver didn't bother to look at the back door even though I had stepped down and signaled my stop. In all my years of being in Philly, I've seen the latter happen far too often. I could go on...

Then I can bring up experiences of people I know...yada yada yada.

Check out the polls on the various local news sites if you don't think that much of the public feels the same way about their SEPTA experiences.

You can dismiss personal experiences all you want, but our city is shrinking, we are losing not gaining young talented folk, and we aren't going to reverse that decline if we can't demand better service and improve the urban quality of living.

Local 234 is demanding better service from SEPTA management, and they are doing so by making the public more miserable and taking more money from the public treasury. That gives us the right to demand better service in return, does it not?

And never did I suggest that this is all the union's fault. I clearly stated that SEPTA was broken and that the "union is part of the problem".

To be clear

I have ridden SEPTA literally since I was a baby. So I am not dismissing personal experiences. I have had many. But a whole bunch of anecdotes does not add up to a finger being squarely pointed at workers.

Most of the problems I see at SEPTA come from a lack of resources or vision provided by management (which I think most disabled riders would agree with and which the news item you linked to confirms. After all, it is management not workers who decide how much money to spend on the El platform).

Agreement at last!

Agreed, management has much room for improvement. And I really want to be on Local 234's side. But I can't because I've been to other major cities and was awed by how much better those experiences were and think Philadelphia is being cheated. The bigger question is why do we put up with the bad service, of all the big cities in the U.S.? And what does the union have to do with that? A lot. They represent the interest of their workers, and they are thus invested in the reputation of SEPTA. Can you outline what steps they have taken to improve customer service amongst their members?

You seem to forget that much of the success of unions in the past was based on their ability to get the public behind them in their fight for justice. Right now much of the public sees no sense of justice in giving raises to workers of an organization which consistently disappoints them and drags down the reputation of their city. You admonished me not to blame it all on the workers (and I pointed out that I didn't), but surely we can't blame it all on "The Man(agement)".

(the protest was that SEPTA employees don't consistently make those ramps available to wheel-chair bound riders who wait towards the front of the train stop, they were asking management to ensure that their employees did so, but again, it was an example of employees not providing service, and management being clueless)

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