Philadelphia

What SEPTA Strike Would Mean as Contract Talks Come Down to Wire

Though negotiations for new terms are coming down to the wire, talks are progressing well, Local 234 President Willie Brown and SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said

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SEPTA workers on Sunday authorized a strike as they seek higher wages, better parental leave terms and financial assistance for families of workers who died due to COVID-19. The strike authorization by the Transport Workers Union Local 234 does not necessarily mean that workers will definitely strike, but it does give them leverage as they negotiate a new contract. The current contract expires at midnight on Oct. 31. NBC10’s Lauren Winfrey has the details.

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As negotiations continue between SEPTA and its largest workers union, there is hope on both sides that a strike can be avoided next week.

The contract for the Transport Workers Union Local 234 ends Sunday, raising the possibility of a strike as soon as the next day. But though negotiations for new terms are coming down to the wire, talks are progressing well, Local 234 President Willie Brown and SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said.

“We’re a lot closer than we were when we started. There’s a possibility that we can get things done,” Brown said. “I have my fingers crossed.”

As negotiations continue, here’s a look at how things are going and what a strike would mean for riders.

What services would be affected by a strike?

A strike would shut down buses, trolleys, the subway and elevated train lines in Philadelphia.

“The reality is it would be a significant disruption for our riders,” Busch said.

A strike, however, would not impact regional rail, where workers are represented by the separate Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union.

How will children get to school if there’s a strike?

Nearly 60,000 students use SEPTA to get to school, according to School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite, and the district is already dealing with a bus driver shortage.

While Hite had previously said SEPTA service interruptions “would have a devastating impact” and could force some or all schools to revert to 100% digital learning, on Thursday the district said most teachers have alternative forms of transportation and therefore all schools will remain open even in the event of a strike.

Students who can't attend in person during a strike, though, are expected to log in to Google Classroom and engage in independent learning daily.

"Hybrid learning will not be offered, and students will not be able to log into their classes virtually," the district said in a press release.

Why might SEPTA workers go on strike?

They're seeking higher wages, better parental leave terms, financial assistance for families of workers who died due to COVID-19 and increased safety across the system.

“SEPTA has offered us lower wages than everyone else in the region, and we’re not going to accept lower wages and we’re not going to take that. You deserve more and your family deserves more,” Brown told union members in a video message last week.

Brown also called for more police officers across the transit system to protect both SEPTA workers and riders. In recent months and weeks, there have been high-profile attacks on SEPTA, including the beating of an employee and multiple sexual assaults of riders.

Will SEPTA shut down on Monday?

As 2016 shows, a SEPTA workers strike is not unprecedented.

However, while Local 234 has authorized another strike that could begin as early as Monday, it may not happen at all, even if SEPTA and its workers haven’t negotiated a new contract by then.

“It’s not our intention to go on strike. We will if we have to, but our intention is to get a contract,” Brown told NBC10. He added that even if a new deal isn’t reached by Monday, workers may choose not to go on strike if the current negotiations continue to be satisfactory.

For his part, Busch said talks have been “productive.” “We’re working on a deal that is fair to employees and is also financially responsible,” he said.