Well, it happened. The Phillies staved off elimination in the World Series against the Yankees. Barely before the dust from the fireworks had settled in the parking lot of Citizens Bank Park the transportation workers’ union did the inevitable, they started to strike.
They strike is based on struggling contract negotiations. I’ll let the Philadelphia Inquirer explain fully:
Rendell said the union chose to walk away from an “excellent” contract offer that includes 11 percent in wage increases over five years, and 11 percent increase in pension contributions, and no increases in workers’ contribution for health care.
“Think about that,” Rendell said. “Whose pension has been increased in this day and age?”
According to TWU officials, SEPTA management has proposed no wage increase for the first two years of a four-year contract and a 2 percent increase in each of the final two years. It also wanted to increase worker contributions to health coverage from 1 percent to 4 percent and freeze the level of pension benefits.
The union wants a 4 percent raise each year and health contributions to remain 1 percent. It is also seeking an increase in pension contributions from $75 to $100 for every year of service.
The TWU also is seeking changes in subcontracting and training provisions to allow members to do maintenance and repair work on buses and trolleys now done by outside contractors.
SEPTA’s 5,100 unionized bus drivers, subway and trolley operators earn from $14.54 to $24.24 an hour, reaching the top rate after four years. Mechanics earn $14.40 to $27.59 an hour.
I am a huge public transportation advocate and I have made a point on this blog in the past about treating transit workers with respect. However, I find this strike rather distasteful. First off, in a city and region that depends on transit you need to give riders greater warning than just walking off the job at 3am. If you want respect you need to give it back.
Moreover, while transit employees work hard and deserve a living wage, they also do not have any real fungible skills or training. The $24.40 an hour they can earn after four years (equivalent to $48,480 a year on a 40-hour work week) seems perfectly appropriate given the position. Two people earning that salary can more than support a full family in Philadelphia.
The healthcare, wage and pension expectations seem plain greedy when 10% of the country cannot find employment at all and many of their riders are working overtime just to make ends meet. Most importantly, the union is bargaining with a semi-public agency, not a multi-billion dollar publicly held company. SEPTA is not trying to gouge its workers, rather just trying to make ends meet on an already stretched budge.
This strike needs to end soon, it is not good for any of the parties involved.