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Septa Strike: The TWU workers should take a paycut for their horrible service


Hey! It’s time for the semi-annual strike by the Transit Workers Union! I’ve been dying to be completely inconvenienced so a group of unskilled, rude, horrible, imbecilic, ignorant and, most importantly, overpaid token collectors can fight for their right to… well, let’s look at what this strike is actually about.

The TWU is upset about the following points:

  1. They want their pension to be funded a little bit more than it already is.
  2. They want their guaranteed (!) raises to be changed a little bit from what SEPTA has offered. Management has proposed that there are no raises in the first year, a 2.5% increase in year two, and a 3% raise for the final three years. And, oh yeah, management has also offered a $1,250 signing bonus for just agreeing to this contract.
  3. The union wants to have seniority rights for maintenance workers who do particular jobs.

Well, let’s take these points one at a time.

  1. Everybody would like their pension and retirement plans to be funded a little bit more than they already are. But, as we all know, we’re in a recession which means there isn’t as much money to go around these days. And I know TWU members know this; anytime I take the subway anywhere, the person in the token booth is busy reading the Metro instead of, you know, doing any actual real work.

Also, the union keeps touting that SEPTA is in a better financial situation that it has been before. This is true; however, this has only happened because the state has come up with a way to fund our hated mass transit system. And the state is affording this by installing tolls on I-80 in the far northern part of the state. But legislators in that part of the state are, rightfully, upset about this; a lot of the small towns in that area depend upon trucking and freight shipping for their livelihoods. So the tolls haven’t been installed quite yet, and, actually, they might never be put in place.

If this toll plan falls through, how will SEPTA’s pension plan be funded? That’s anyone’s guess. I am predicting, though, that it will come from a state tax that you and I will have to pay for. And, I know for sure that no TWU employee will throw up some money to cover the matching funds that have been cut at your job.

  1. Getting any kind of guaranteed raise in this climate is beyond reasonable. Most TWU employees can be replaced instantaneously. Seriously, what kind of skill does it take to drive a bus? With a few days of training, anyone with a driver’s license can learn how to do this. Now, granted, a few of these jobs require some actual work; mechanics know repair complex automotive and train parts. But, seriously… sitting on your ass and telling people which way is towards Fern Rock and which way is towards the stadiums isn’t challenging. And booth-sitters don’t even do that with any regularity.
  2. The TWU doesn’t like that some maintenance jobs are given to outside contractors. They also don’t like that management might give some higher paying maintenance jobs to “favored” employees over ones with seniority. In other words, the TWU doesn’t like that management might give some higher paying maintenance jobs to younger employees who might actually know what they’re doing.

Curiously, health care is not connected to this strike. In 2005, TWU workers walked out because of management’s desire to have employees kick in a little bit of their salary to health insurance costs. You know, like pretty much what everyone else who works in America has to do. The strike ended when TWU members agreed to kick in one percent of their paychecks. Management, this time, took health care pays off the table almost immediately.

So, everyone, let’s give it up for the TWU. It’s not every day that an entire city’s entire transit system has been brought to a screeching halt because of a trade union’s inability to show any flexibility while negotiating. However, this does pretty much happen every other year.

The important question is: how can we prevent a strike from happening again?

There’s one easy way to do so. In many cities, it’s actually illegal for transit employees to strike, as they’re considered to be an essential part of a region’s existence. This is true in New York; the last time the transit union there went on strike, a judge fined the group $1 million a day until it ended. We have no such law here, which gives the TWU all the incentive in the world to sit this one out.

So, how come we can’t change this rule? Just take a look at who controls this city politically. It’s all-Democrat, all-the-time in this radio market; Republicans need not apply. And the unions come out en masse for Democrats, who in turn come out en masse for the unions, no matter how “angry” Ed Rendell and Mike Nutter will pretend to be during their press conferences.

So, next time you head to the polls, think about whom you’re actually voting for. You can hate George W. Bush or whoever is the new arch-conservative villain of the week. But they have no say in these parts. And if you want our city to change at all, or at least have transit workers care enough to do their job, think about casting a vote for the bad guys.

Homepage photo from Gettyimages.