As the SEPTA strike enters its third full day, negotiations between the transit authority and TWU 234 are underway. That’s what both sides say — but there haven’t yet been any signs of notable progress. What’s the problem?
Word around some Philly bars is that SEPTA management is purposely holding out until Friday. At least, that’s what several striking workers who are regulars at a couple of Graduate Hospital watering holes have told their bartender friends.
A rumor that appears to be spreading among the TWU membership holds that the transit authority is waiting for “some bigwig” to come waltzing in and orchestrate a compromise, thus scoring prime political points right before next Tuesday’s election.
“They don’t know who it’s supposed to be,” said a bar staffer as she pulled a pint of draft beer, “but the timing is too much of a coincidence.”
Her regular customer, a transit worker who is now on strike, explained the background that led him and his colleague to this assumption: TWU originally started negotiations on a new contract over the summer, but SEPTA refused to budge, forcing the whole issue to come to a head right before Election Day.
There’s no proof the strike will end Friday, or that the timing was orchestrated by either side. However, the conversation went, if someone running for office — say, US Senate candidate Katie McGinty, or candidate for US Rep. Dwight Evans — were to step in and create compromise, that person would be hailed as a hero by most of Philadelphia, and likely get a big boost at the polls.
There’s little chance that savior is Bob Brady, the Philly congressman and head of the Democratic City Committee most famous nationally for swiping Pope Francis’ water glass. Brady’s visit to the negotiating table the night before the strike did not avert it, and there’s no end in sight despite his generally hopeful public statements — to wit, “They’re talking. That’s the most important part,” on Wednesday.
SEPTA is the most struck transit agency in the country. Over the past half-century, TWU 234 has gone on strike no fewer than a dozen times. The longest holdout kept Philly transit down for a whopping 44 days. Recent strikes have been resolved more quickly. Two years ago, it took less than a day for 450 Regional Rail engineers and electricians to negotiate a new contract after they walked off the job. In 2009, it took six days for TWU to reach an accord.
On Wednesday night just before 11 p.m., SEPTA Chair Pasquale Deon Sr. released a statement full of jabs at the union. “Too much is at stake for either side to fail to fully engage in the negotiating process,” he wrote. “SEPTA negotiators have been working tirelessly to get a deal done, and we’re asking TWU leadership to do the same.” Union leadership — and Sen. Brady — said they were surprised by the aggressively negative tone, especially considering the two sides had returned to the negotiating table that same evening around 5 p.m.
“I don’t know why he’s doing that,” Brady told PlanPhilly after reading Deon’s release. SEPTA’s statement also called on the union to suspend the strike — if it was still on — and return to work just for Election Day. TWU President Willie Brown has pledged that the union will not acquiesce to the suspension request.