In a move that will affect 13 rail lines and as many as 60,000 daily commuters around the Philadelphia area, two separate unions have informed SEPTA (Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority) that, because of their inability to reach a deal in negotiations that had been ongoing with SEPTA, they are officially on strike as of 12:01 am this morning.
NBC10 tells us that subways, buses, and trolleys operated by SEPTA will continue to run, but 400 workers on SEPTA’s regional rail service will cause trains operating between Philadelphia’s center city area and the suburbs, including the international airport, to stop operating. SEPTA is planning on adding additional subway and trolley cars to cope with the additional demand.
According to Delaware Online, negotiations between SEPTA and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen came to a halt when SEPTA tried to impose a deal beginning Sunday that would raise electrical workers’ pay by an average of $3.00 per hour and bump up the top wage for locomotive engineers by $2.64 per hour. According to Stephen Bruno, President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Union, workers are seeking raises of about 14.5% over the next three years, which equates to approximately three percentage points more than SEPTA has offered them.
According to NBC10, in a last-ditch effort to avoid a strike, SEPTA announced its willingness to keep its announced wage increases in effect for two weeks, essentially allowing for a two-week cooling off period before negotiations would resume. SEPTA’s offer was soundly rejected by both unions. According to Stephen Bruno, his union has been working without a contract for four years. Bruno further said that (referencing SEPTA’s proposed two week cooling off period) “an extension without any movement toward closure is really pointless.”
The last time regional trains came to a halt around the Philadelphia area was during a SEPTA rail strike in 1983 which lasted more than three months. The strike’s timing exacerbates the region’s already exaggerated summer transit woes as several large constructions projects around SEPTA’s service areas. Rail lines carrying commuters to Philadelphia from southern New Jersey are being replaced over the Ben Franklin Bridge and a section of I-495 in Delaware will remain closed for the summer as emergency work on a bridge continues there, forcing more traffic onto I-95.
The SEPTA strike comes on the heels of a somewhat broader movement around the country of transit worker unions pushing for higher wages. Earlier this month, San Francisco, California, area transmit workers staged what has come to be known as “The San Francisco Sickout” in an attempt to garner higher wages from the area’s Municipal Transit Authority.
For the sake of beleaguered summer commuters in the Philadelphia area, hopefully SEPTA and its unions will come to an agreement before the summer heat between the negotiating parties rises any further.