Will SEPTA Ruin the World Series?

The taxpayers are forced to sit back and watch while Goliaths go toe-to-toe.

By Joel Hoffmann
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 7 | Posted Oct. 29, 2009

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Will the trolleys be running when the Yankees come to town?

Photo by Studio 34, via Flickr.

Here’s my prediction for Game 3 of the World Series: The Transport Workers Union will win another round of labor negotiations with SEPTA and baseball fans will be able to take public transportation to Citizens Bank Park as if a strike had never been on the horizon.

While that might sound like a good thing for the city, I'm not sure that it will be in the long run.

If the Transport Workers were slugging it out with a soulless corporation like Wal-Mart, I would side with the union on principal. The disparity between the pay of American CEOs and that of their blue-collar workers is perverse.

But we’re not talking about David and Goliath here. We’re talking about Tyson vs. Holyfield, and both are missing an ear. Maybe it's time for taxpayers to climb into the ring.

SEPTA is a government-authorized monopoly. SEPTA is a government-subsidized monopoly. (The authority received $610.6 million in local, state and federal subsidies in fiscal year 2008, or 44 percent of its $1.37 billion in operating expenses). This arrangement assumes that SEPTA’s actions have the tacit approval of taxpayers. It’s time to be more explicit about what we want and expect from our investment.

I admire the persistence of unions – the obstinacy of unions – in the fight against cutthroat capitalism. But it's hard for me to sympathize with them when taxpayers are held for ransom.

Spokesmen for SEPTA and TWU Local 234 have said that the riders are important to them, and that both sides want to prevent a strike on the eve of Game 3. In other words, they want to avoid a PR nightmare. (Remember the seven-day strike of 2005?)

But maybe a World Series shit storm is what they need. TWU 234's five-year contract expired March 15. SEPTA and the union have been operating without a contract for seven months. Hell, they're making the state legislature look quick and efficient.

Why the strife? Well, according to the Inky, “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 wants to increase worker contributions to health coverage from 1 percent to 4 percent and freeze the level of pension benefits.”

TWU members want “a 4 percent raise each year and health contributions to remain 1 percent.” They also want “an increase in pension contributions from $75 to $100 for every year of service” and “changes in subcontracting and training provisions to allow members to do maintenance and repair work on buses and trolleys now done by outside contractors.”

Not gonna happen. Shouldn't happen in this economy.

I can't blame Willie Brown for pitching something so unrealistic, something so distant from economic reality. I mean, his members are bringing in $2.7 million a year in union dues, according to TWU's FY 2007 tax return. Now that he's president, Brown is easily making $96,000 a year himself – that's about how much former president Jeffrey Brooks made in FY 2007, when Brown was executive vice president and earning a $79,038 salary. And let's not forget that $5,000 expense account that comes with the territory. (I couldn't find pay records for SEPTA's top brass by deadline, but I bet it's comparable.)

But SEPTA's 9,000 employees are quasi-public servants, benefiting from public subsidies. Since the managers and union workers are having such a difficult time finding common ground, maybe a coalition of taxpayers should have a seat at the bargaining table.

Yes, SEPTA employees are taxpayers, too. But they're outnumbered by other taxpayers in the areas they serve. Surely, chaos would ensue if even a few dozen taxpayers were invited into the war room. But one from each congressional voting district would be enough to ensure a fair return on our investment. I'm speaking in economic, political and social terms here.

How this would work, I don't know. I'll leave that to more orderly minds.

The point remains: We're not disinterested spectators. We have a stake in the outcome of this game, and we should raid the locker room if we have to.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 7 of 7
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1. Sick of it. said... on Oct 29, 2009 at 08:29PM

“I guess it takes the possibility of raining on a world series game to bring the point to the table, better late than never I guess. Personally, I think that unions have this town by it's balls. I might lose my job because we've been spanked by every union in this town in the last year, lowering our traffic flow with their picketting, lowering our income & thusly lowering the likleyhood of me having a job for long. The unions planted their "I'm the salt of the earth" guys on the corners of every company branch, even dusted off the giant blow up rat (that was stiched together in a non-union warehouse, i might add.) When does it end? Why are your jobs & families more important than mine? I don't even have 1/2 the benefits you've got & I'm just happy to be working in this economy. NOW, the Septa crews are at it? Now I cant even GET to the job thats already being picketted by some other jerkoffs? Way to screw us. Hope you have a great holiday season. I'll spend mine lookin for a 3rd job.”

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2. Transit Activist said... on Oct 30, 2009 at 08:52AM

“As a rider with no other transportation means, I have found that there is no public support for what the TWU is asking for. All of the bus drivers etc... have automobiles (they can get around, or to another job). I am not anti-union, but what they are asking for is unrealistic, given that all the other working people are taking a hit, and most are not getting the types of benefits that Septa employees make. What happens with the City workers? They are being asked to make concessions. If they go out before game 3 of the World Series, the City will have a blackeye, millions of dollars of revenue will be lost, and others who might want to do business with the City will question whether it is worth it. The seniors on Social Security and disabilities are not getting an increase, the Medicare Part D is a farce, BUT HOW many citizens of the region will lose their jobs if Septa goes out? People lost their jobs in previous Septa strikes. Employers don't care if you can't get to work. With so many people out of work, they can easily be replaced. OH, and don't forget, that with every strike there is a decline in ridership, with more people taking to cars, since they will realize that Septa is not reliable. I DON't see the union asking for things that the riding public feels that they need, such as less overcrowded buses, and more buses and better service. Better mannered drivers, etc... If the TWU was willing to ask for things that would help the riders, than maybe the riders would be willing to help them. NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO BE GREEDY TWU, AND PLAYING THE RACE CARD WILL NOT WORK!”

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3. Anonymous said... on Oct 31, 2009 at 12:01AM

“I hope everyone drives drunk to the game this weekend, some loved ones of 234 get killed by drunk drivers, and they realize how stupid this is.”

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4. stizz said... on Oct 31, 2009 at 08:18AM

“Hoping people get killed buy drunk drivers is as stupid as most of the comments. Septa workers do not want to strike. They just want whats fair. Everyone thinks the workers make so much money but truth is a lot of jobs out there pay as much or maybe even more than what septa workers bring in.I agree the union is asking for a bit much but we cannot blame the workers come on all 4700 plus voted for a strike on Oct. 25th no but the union controls that voting process so lets not place the blame on workers. One last thing people talk about how rude the drivers are but anyone who has a job with the public knows that there are animals and civil humans and the balance can get to anyone. Personally myself !!a good experience with every driver I ever rode with maybe its my personality CHECK YOUR OWN.


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5. archerboys said... on Oct 31, 2009 at 11:26AM

“sick of it !You may not have 1/2 the benefits .However, Septa drivers have a hard job . Thats why SEPTA pay them ok money.The workers spend more hours at work then most jobs and some of the house they are not payed because thats thier schedule .”

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6. bottomline said... on Oct 31, 2009 at 03:22PM

“the bottom line is we, as a society, city and people have allowed a greedy, unprofessional group of union workers who serve hundreds of thousands of citizens (that's every-day-people), some of which make less money and have far less advantages, to have more power than they deserve.”

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7. Deep said... on Nov 4, 2009 at 06:52PM

“We are failing to see the big picture here. We are failing to see the picture from places like Harrisburg, where you have lawmakers from the central part of this state who want nothing more than to destroy Philadelphia. These are politicians who have made careers out of blocking anything that would bring a possible benefit to the city. This strike will give them all the amunition they'll need when it comes to state transportation budgets. Rather than state money going to SEPTA and to Philadelphia, that money will be going to people in Blair County. All 12 of them. The real winners of the SEPTA strike are in the mountains of PA.”

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