For the second time since the Millennial generation has been around, SEPTA’s regional rail workers might go on strike.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “SEPTA moved Monday to impose management’s terms in a long-running labor dispute with Regional Rail workers,” a unilateral move “which union leaders said could prompt a strike that would halt all commuter rail service at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.”

Now, management terms seem to be pretty good, on the surface:  pay raises of nearly $3 an hour pretty much across the board for most regional rail workers.

But the unions representing those workers are crying foul, saying that because workers have been operating without a contract for about half a decade, the pay raises should be retroactive.

This means that the unions representing regional rail workers, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 744 and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, are demanding backpay for raises that are being proposed, effective today. In some cases, these payouts would exceed $10,000 for back wages that the unions argue should have been paid out in the first place if a contract were negotiated on time years ago.

As you can imagine, SEPTA isn’t really finding that notion acceptable. Apparently, SEPTA general manager Joseph Casey indicated to the Inquirer that the transit authority isn’t in the business of paying backpay after-the-fact.  Altogether, the unions are intimating that a strike is inevitable unless SEPTA caves-in and pays out.

It’s important to note that regional rail workers are separate from city transit workers.  The unions representing regional rail workers haven’t gone on strike since the Reagan Administration.  The union representing city transit workers, however, went on strike last decade, which is what most people probably think of when they remember SEPTA strikes.

Basically, SEPTA has two working arms:  the regional rail and everything else.  “Everything else” includes the buses, trolleys, and subways within Philadelphia.  Earlier this year, Transit Workers Union Local 234 which represents the bus, subway, and trolley operators, threatened to strike again.

Now, this is where it gets interesting.  Here in the city, SEPTA says that 631,000 folks ride the buses, trolleys, and subways every day.  These folks typically live in Philadelphia and are moving around Philadelphia.  On the other hand, SEPTA says that 127,000 people ride the regional rail every day:  These people typically live in the suburbs or outskirt neighborhoods and commute to Center City or Center City adjacent neighborhoods.

Earlier this year, when TWU threatened to strike and leave those 631,000 city residents without transportation, little was said from Governor Tom Corbett.

In fact, it took state Representative Kate Harper (R-Montgomery) to pick up the slack as she introduced a bill prohibiting SEPTA strikes in the Commonwealth. (Not exactly the best solution, but it was something.) Yet, unlike some members of the GOP in Harrisburg, the Governor seemed generally unfazed by the affair.

Conversely, now that the regional rail is possibly interrupted thanks to a strike, Governor Corbett has suddenly expressed interest in mass transit issues. According to the Inquirer, Corbett has threatened to get President Obama involved if the regional rail goes on strike.

“No one wants a work stoppage on our rails or buses,” said Thomas Jay Ellis, a Philadelphia lawyer representing Gov. Corbett on the SEPTA board, to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “The governor understands that there are no winners should SEPTA engineers” strike.

He then went further, telling the Inky that SEPTA was going to be “dealing with the president’s people” to help avoid a strike or, presumably, force regional rail workers back on the job.

Ellis did not respond to repeated requests for comment from Philadelphia Weekly as to why Governor Corbett has a newfound interest in Philadelphia mass transit issues or why he thought the buses would be affected by the regional rail.

About The Author

Contributing columnist

Josh Kruger is an award-winning writer and commentator in Philadelphia. His @PhillyWeekly column, “The Uncomfortable Whole,” took the First Place Spotlight Award for weekly newspaper commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists in both 2014 and 2015 and the Second Place Award for weekly newspaper commentary in the U.S. and Canada from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia in 2014; and, the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association presented him with the Edith Hughes Emerging Journalist Award in 2015. Along with his column, Josh blogs daily for PW on various topics including queer culture and news, mass transit, politics, crime, drugs, HIV/AIDS, civil liberties, activism, media and everything else Philly.

5 Responses

  1. 6/12 Morning Buzz | PoliticsPA

    […] Not Guns puzzle WHYY Newsworks: With dismal revenue outlook, Pa. party leaders warm to each other PhillyNow: Gov. Corbett suddenly cares about mass transit as SEPTA strike looms Philadelphia Weekly: Why Paul […]

  2. Dude

    Its not fair to say Corbett doesn’t care about mass transit, he did push through the infrastructure bill over the concerns of conservatives.

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