Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Philly Transit System Shut Down As Union Strikes

The union representing transit workers who are employed by SEPTA went on strike this morning, leaving nearly 1 million commuters stranded trying to figure out how to get to work this morning. At least the union didn't strike as the World Series was underway at Citizens Bank ballpark and allowed the fans to get to the games to see the Yankees take two of three. They waited until the fans got home to strike.
The walkout by Transport Workers Union Local 243, which began at 3 a.m. and caught commuters off guard, also affected Frontier Division buses in Bucks, Montgomery, and Chester counties.

But Regional Rail, Paratransit and other services outside the city continued to run.

Many riders turned to passenger Regional Rail trains, which were crowded and running about 30 minutes late during the morning rush hour.

With Philadelphia Public School students off today for a teachers' in-service, the city should be spared the full impact of the strike until tomorrow.

Still traffic appeared to be heavier than usual, especially on Broad Street, which was bumper to bumper in North Philadelphia.

As the first glimmer of dawn broke this morning, striking SEPTA workers huddled in small clusters around the Frankford Transportation Center as would-be passengers continued to arrive with no idea that nothing was operating.

Colleen Logan, 45, showed up at 5:20 a.m. to discover that she would not be able to ride the Market-Frankford El to her job as a waitress at Snow White Restaurant in Old City.
So what are the issues that forced the union to strike? Well, they didn't like the last deal on the table, which would have given a 11% salary increase over five years, 11% increase in pension contributions, an no increases in workers' contribution for health care.

Those are figures that quite a few unemployed folks would love to get. In fact, while Pennsylvania has a lower than the national unemployment rate of 8.3%, it has spiked from 5.9% in November 2008. The rate is much higher in Philadelphia, where the rate is 10.7%.

I'm sure that lots of those unemployed would love to have a job where they have benefits that outstrip anything seen in the private sector, and which offers job protections that add to the cost of doing business.

So, what was the union demanding? This:
Union workers, who earn an average $52,000 a year, are seeking an annual 4 percent wage hike and want to keep the current 1 percent contribution they make toward the cost of their health care coverage.

Maloney said SEPTA was offering an 11.5 percent wage increase over 5 years, with no raise in the first year, and increases in workers' pensions.

A 2005 SEPTA strike lasted seven days, while a 1998 transit strike lasted for 40 days.

Frank Brinkman, a union member who does electronic work on an elevated SEPTA train, was out on the picket line early Tuesday. He said he was concerned about pension issues and changes to work rules.
The union shouldn't expect to get much sympathy from commuters or those who are struggling to find jobs, and the timing doesn't help their cause either.

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