FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Philadelphia Transit Strike

Despite signs that agreement on a new contract was imminent, talks between the Transport Workers Union Local 234 and the city of Philadelphia’s SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) broke off Saturday night when the union asked for clarification regarding health care and pension benefits.  The union has been out on strike since Tuesday.

As for the strike itself, there had been speculation that, as a means of applying the squeeze, the Transport Workers would shut it all down while the World Series was being played in Philadelphia.  The union abandoned consideration of that radical move when Pennsylvania’s governor, Ed Rendell, ominously threatened to punish them if they went ahead with it.  Union leadership was split on the tactic.  While it definitely would have raised the sperm count of the bargain, it would also have risked alienating the community.

On Saturday, predictably, Governor Rendell issued a “war-time communiqué,” a melodramatic statement to the press intended to turn public sentiment, as well as the union’s nervous membership, against the Transport Workers leadership.  Surrounded by political cronies (including Michael Nutter, the mayor of Philadelphia), Rendell said, “In my 32 years in government, I have never been more disappointed by a negotiation than I am right now tonight.”

Thank you, Guv, your disappointment is duly noted.  You made your point.  Now it’s time to get back to work, because, apparently, you still have lots of bargaining ahead of you.  Local 234 president, Willie Brown, has stated that the only topics the union had unequivocally agreed upon were wage rates and the amounts of pension contributions.  That’s it.  Period.  Nothing more.

The union (which represents about 5,000 members—bus drivers, streetcar and subway operators, as well as mechanics) has requested answers to some profoundly important questions.  They want to know just how “secure” their pension contributions will be, and just how “fluid” their health care premiums will be should a national health care initiative be passed.  After all, given recent history, it’s not as if the American public has reason to blindly trust our financial institutions

Moreover, if past experience has taught organized labor anything, it’s that any gray area whatever in contract language—any loophole, any fuzzy phrasing, any ambiguity, any range of interpretation—will be used against the workers.  There’s never a coin-flip as to who is right, never a quid pro quo, never a grudging acceptance of the union’s argument.  It’s always one-sided and it’s always in management’s favor.

Apparently, one of the things that has infuriated Rendell and the SEPTA is that the union has requested an independent audit in order to determine whether the pension fund is sufficiently capitalized.  The union has bluntly stated that it believes the pension fund is “severely underfunded.”  Hence, the request for an audit.

Rendell is also insisting that the union membership be allowed to vote on the existing offer, a ploy I’ve personally seen several times while I was as a union negotiator with another industry.  Circumventing union leadership by demanding that the offer be presented to the members is a brilliant move, one with zero downside.

The worst that can happen is that the offer gets voted down by the membership, which sends the company right back at the bargaining table—which happens to be the exact same place they were to start.  But if a skittish membership loses its nerve and ratifies an inferior offer, the company has won.  Why not ask for a vote?  Management has nothing to lose.

No one is trying to portray the city of Philadelphia as “irrational” or “evil.”  Admittedly, it’s a bad time for municipalities, as cities across the country are going broke.  But experience has taught organized labor a bitter lesson:  When things take a turn for the better, the last group to see improvement are working people.

When corporations, entrepreneurs or Wall Street bankers go for the jugular—when they behave aggressively, mercilessly, cold-heartedly, trying to gain a competitive advantage—they’re portrayed as “tough and single-minded.”  But when a union tries to assert itself, it’s portrayed as “greedy.”  Organized labor has no one in its corner but its own members.  Simple as that.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor” (available at Amazon.com).  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

April 23, 2019
Peter Belmont
The Monroe Doctrine is Back, and as the Latest US Attack on Cuba Shows, Its Purpose is to Serve the Neoliberal Order
David Schultz
The Mueller Report: Trump Too Inept to Obstruct Justice
Geoff Beckman
Crazy Uncle Joe and the Can’t We All Just Get Along Democrats
Medea Benjamin
Activists Protect DC Venezuelan Embassy from US-supported Coup
Patrick Cockburn
What Revolutionaries in the Middle East Have Learned Since the Arab Spring
Jim Goodman
Don’t Fall for the Hype of Free Trade Agreements
Lance Olsen
Climate and Forests: Land Managers Must Adapt, and Conservationists, Too
William Minter
The Coming Ebola Epidemic
Tony McKenna
Stephen King’s IT: a 2019 Retrospective
David Swanson
Pentagon Claims 1,100 High Schools Bar Recruiters; Peace Activists Offer $1,000 Award If Any Such School Can Be Found
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
April 22, 2019
Melvin Goodman
The NYTs Tries to Rehabilitate Bloody Gina Haspel
Robert Fisk
After ISIS, a Divided Iraq, Wounded and Grief-Stricken
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange as Neuroses
John Laforge
Chernobyl’s Deadly Effects Estimates Vary
Kenneth Surin
Mueller Time? Not for Now
Cesar Chelala
Yemen: The Triumph of Barbarism
Kerron Ó Luain
What the “White Irish Slaves” Meme Tells Us About Identity Politics
Andy Piascik
Grocery Store Workers Take on Billion Dollar Multinational
Seiji Yamada – Gregory G. Maskarinec
Health as a Human Right: No Migrants Need Apply
Howard Lisnoff
Loose Bullets and Loose Cannons
Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada
Dreaming in Miami
Graham Peebles
Consuming Stuff: The Polluting World of Fashion
Robert Dodge
Earth Day: Our Planet in Peril
Weekend Edition
April 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What Will It Take For Trump to Get His Due?
Roy Eidelson
Is the American Psychological Association Addicted to Militarism and War?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Time is Blind, Man is Stupid
Joshua Frank
Top 20 Mueller Report “Findings”
Rob Urie
Why Russiagate Will Never Go Away
Paul Street
Stephen Moore Gets Something Right: It’s Capitalism vs. Democracy
Russell Mokhiber
Why Boeing and Its Executives Should be Prosecuted for Manslaughter
T.J. Coles
The Battle for Latin America: How the U.S. Helped Destroy the “Pink Tide”
Ron Jacobs
Ho Chi Minh City: Nguyen Thai Binh Street
Dean Baker
Fun Fictions in Economics
David Rosen
Trump’s One-Dimensional Gender Identity
Kenn Orphan
Notre Dame: We Have Always Belonged to Her
Robert Hunziker
The Blue Ocean Event and Collapsing Ecosystems
Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
Paddy Wagon
Brett Wilkins
Jimmy Carter: US ‘Most Warlike Nation in History of the World’
John W. Whitehead
From Jesus Christ to Julian Assange: When Dissidents Become Enemies of the State
Nick Pemberton
To Never Forget or Never Remember
Stephen Cooper
My Unforgettable College Stabbings
Louis Proyect
A Leftist Rejoinder to the “Capitalist Miracle”
Louisa Willcox
Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic and the Need for a New Approach to Managing Wildlife
Brian Cloughley
Britain Shakes a Futile Fist and Germany Behaves Sensibly
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail