The union representing SEPTA employees says workers are ready to strike if contract negotiations fail. Members of Transport Workers Union Local 234 (TWU) voted to authorize a strike on Sunday, handing its president Willie Brown a new bargaining chip against SEPTA as contract talks enter the final week.
“Our members are essential workers who have risked their lives and put their own families at risk during this pandemic,” union president Willie Brown told The Philadelphia Inquirer. He said the union was asking SEPTA to address “issues related to health and safety and modest economic improvements.”
The authorization vote gives the union more bargaining power by letting leaders call a strike quickly without needing all the union members to assemble, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. The union is demanding more pandemic-related assistance as transit workers have had to deal with increased COVID-19 risks and belligerent passengers refusing mask mandates.
SEPTA said talks have been productive and it hopes to avoid disruptions with agreement on a “fair and financially responsible” pact. The agency said it is still losing about $1 million a day in revenues due to ridership declines with more people working at home during the pandemic, and ridership not expected to return to February 2020 levels.
“We have to find a way to provide fair wages and benefits to employees, while also facing the challenges ahead,” SEPTA said. “That’s why SEPTA has presented two paths to TWU leadership: a shorter-term deal that provides wage increases, a pandemic payment and other benefits, and a longer-term proposal that reflects future uncertainties.”