‘They said strike, so we striked.’

Still just in his first year at SEPTA, T found himself amid a strike of all the transportation service’s subway, bus and trolley operators and engineers. As a new employee, he said he was afraid to do anything that went against both SEPTA and the Transport Workers Union.

“I just know a lot of people were saying SEPTA was trying to … make us pay more into our benefits and change the raise percentage,” T said, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job.

On Nov. 1, TWU Local 235 went on a week-long strike after months of negotiations failed to yield an agreement between the union and SEPTA over wages, healthcare benefits, and pensions for the workers.

Screen Shot 2016-11-17 at 3.15.11 PM.png
These ridership statistics are from a 2015 SEPTA strategic plan. They surely have increased within the last year.

He added that his coworkers felt SEPTA acted unfairly by barely increasing their wages and making them pay more of their money into something else such as their healthcare benefits.

In an October newsletter,  TWU Local 234 hinted at the high probability for a strike because “the Union has been trying to get SEPTA back to the table to discuss economic issues, such as pension reform, health care and wage improvements.”

The union also laid out one of SEPTA’s offers to them in another newsletter released at the end of October. In it, SEPTA offered the union workers a 5.5 percent increase in wages over five years, the elimination of two paid holidays, an increase in healthcare contributions, and no improvements to workers’ pensions whatsoever.

So, no improvements to pensions meant no service for SEPTA and the union workers went on strike.

Sources for map: http://www.septa.org/service/interruption/2016-guide.htmlhttp://billypenn.com/2016/10/31/the-complete-2016-septa-strike-survival-guide/

Yet after four days of negotiations, SEPTA leaders tried forcing the union workers back to work through an injunction filed on Nov. 4 saying “if the strike continues through Election Day, citizens in both the City and surrounding counties will risk losing their opportunity to vote if they are unable to vote before commuting to work.”

Two days later Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf had intervened, urging both sides to compromise and allow for the thousands of workers to go back to work because the strike “has grave economic consequences for both the city and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

The union workers shed light on an issue that 83 percent of Americans believe is one of the most important issues for the next president to handle. Yet others feared the strike would hinder a large Election Day turnout, even though the state still made history by voting red for the first time since 1988.

Although the new contract between SEPTA and the union is settled, T says all the drivers have yet to see it. The union, however, released details of a tentative agreement that was made with SEPTA, which will be voted on Nov. 18.

The agreement outlines not only prescription and healthcare costs, but also explains a new formula for calculating pensions, as well as an increase in wages over the next five years. Also, outlined in the tentative agreement is the proper protocol for the use of video recording of workers, job upgrades, and tool and clothing allowances.

This tentative agreement still leaves a question of whether workers are receiving the proper improvements that put them on strike in the first place.

“Everybody who is working for a wage wants to be paid what they’re worth especially in a city where the tax revenues are going up,” said Brett Mandel, who previously served in the Financial and Policy Analysis Unit in the City Controller’s Office. “I think that is a problem, not only in Philadelphia, but in most public-sector negotiations.”

Tax revenues in Philadelphia have increased within the last few years, but pensions still are a major issue for many Philadelphians. High pensions for previous government workers created problems for the city’s retirement fund as reported in an article from Philly.com early this year.

Most people retiring now do not have a traditional pension and are living off their 401(k)s since they are either not a public official, not a part of a union, did not work full-time, or for some other underlying reason.

As for healthcare, the number of people uninsured in America has decreased since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Yet, there are still major concerns over the quality of the ACA, allowing Republicans to gain support in beginning the process to appeal Obamacare.

But as Philadelphia’s transportation problems may be subsiding, New York City’s are just beginning.

On Nov. 15, over 1,000 transit workers from the Transport Workers Union 100 gathered outside of MTA headquarters in Manhattan with the message “no contract, no transit.” The transit workers are looking for a raise in wages as well as better on-the-job safety after the death of an MTA worker after he was struck and killed by a train in Brooklyn.

New York City avoided a potential strike between the MTA, LIRR, and the union workers in 2014. MTA workers did go on strike in 2005 for three days and ultimately shut down the city in the process.

Hopefully the city of Philadelphia will not have to deal with a potential strike until 2021.

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