At least they waited until after the World Series home games were over. But the surprise strike by the Transport Workers Union caught Philly commuters off-guard -- and presented Mayor Michael Nutter with yet another crisis to solve.

By PW Staff
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 15 | Posted Nov. 3, 2009

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The doors to the 30th Street subway station were locked this morning, leaving commuters to hoof it or find some other means of transportation.

Photo by Joel Mathis

Well, at least they waited until the World Series games were over.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports: "Hundreds of thousands of commuters scrambled this morning to find a way to work or school after SEPTA's largest union staged a surprise pre-dawn strike, shutting down down all subway, bus and trolley service in the city. The walkout by Transport Workers Union Local 243, which began at 3 a.m. and caught commuters off guard, also affected Frontier Division buses in Bucks, Montgomery, and Chester counties."

MyFoxPhilly reports: "Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter blasted SEPTA’s transit union for a calling a strike with little notice to commuters on Tuesday. 'People had already gone to bed. Some people were already at their job,' Nutter said. 'To find out you can’t get home is the height of the lack of consideration.'”

The strike came on what was otherwise expected to be a relatively quiet and low-profile Election Day. Today's slate features candidates for district attorney, city controller and a number of judicial positions, but by 8 am, polling place workers at Markward Recreation Center in Center City said they'd had no voters -- and attributed it, in part, to the SEPTA strike.

And it came late enough that commuters were caught off-guard. At the 22nd Street trolley station this morning, a number of people were seen trying to enter -- only to look mystified when greeted by closed doors. The inconvenience was maddening to commuters.

At, writer Deidre Wengen commented: "As a person who relies on public transportation, this whole ordeal really yanks my chain. The union has decided to strike over wages and pensions. It is really greedy and irresponsible.

"There are thousands of people in this city that use buses, trolleys and the subway to get to work-- many people who can't afford other alternative transportation or don't have the option of other transportation. This strike does nothing but hurt the people who are hurting the most already."

It's 2009, so much of the anger was expressed on Twitter -- SEPTA was one of the nation's top "trending topics" on the social networking site. A sampling of comments:

UPDATE 10:30 am: Hoo boy, is Michael Nutter pissed. Watch his interview with MyFoxPhilly:

“Their salaries were proposed to go up. Their pension was to be increased. They have a pension fund that is 50 percent funded, similar to ours. So no reasonable, rationale person right now is thinking about a raise, is thinking about an increase in their pension when other members of the general public and other Americans are losing their jobs. Unemployment in Philadelphia just went over 11 percent. There is no reason for this. None."

On Twitter, we asked you the following question:

Your responses:

UPDATE 11 am: There's a blogger who supports the union. Miss Bee at The Bee Side writes: "Contract negotiations are for a four year contract.  No one is getting a raise right now - we all know that - but in the next four years, the economy will probably bounce back and we'll all be back to getting our merit and performance raises just like we're used to.  If SEPTA goes with the city's proposal, they will end up with a 4% raise over the next four years.  1% a year.  Which is not a big deal in the end.  1%.  ONE PERCENT.  For the next four years.  So even if the economy is soaring with rainbow-colored ribbons in two years and stays steadily at that, SEPTA will still be locked into their measley raise of one percent a year.

"It's the bigwigs who are holding this thing up.  Not your bus driver.  Remember that."

But The Transit Pass blog isn't so forgiving: "I am a huge public transportation advocate and I have made a point on this blog in the past about treating transit workers with respect.  However, I find this strike rather distasteful.  First off, in a city and region that depends on transit you need to give riders greater warning than just walking off the job at 3am.  If you want respect you need to give it back.

"The healthcare, wage and pension expectations seem plain greedy when 10% of the country cannot find employment at all and many of their riders are working overtime just to make ends meet.  Most importantly, the union is bargaining with a semi-public agency, not a multi-billion dollar publicly held company.  SEPTA is not trying to gouge its workers, rather just trying to make ends meet on an already stretched budget."

And The Monty Way is just plain irritated: "The news this morning that SEPTA decided to strike was not shocking. Remember we are dealing with a group of idiots here that are not thankful for their current jobs with benefits that they hold. I guess the employees of SEPTA do not read the Metro, otherwise they would be informed citizens and know the dire straights that the economy is in, let alone the city of Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania. A very attractive deal was extended to them late last night but that offer was still not good enough, it included pay raises and the same health benefits at no additional costs, an offer most working (and non-working) people would jump at! Again let me state we are dealing with idiots!!! I think that when they go back to the bargaining table, they should include money to cover customer service training as well as a mandatory basic course on economics to all employees!"

More to come.

UPDATE 12:52 pm: Mayor Nutter popped out of City Hall just after noon to offer thanks to the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia for setting up a "bicycle corral" to encourage bike riding during the strike. PW had the chance to ask a couple of questions on video:

UPDATE 2:31 pm:
Ray Murphy at Young Philly Politics has a stirring call to back the union, which deserves to be quoted at length:

"More than anything you have to support this strike because you have to support unions.

"As union density has declined, we have all suffered. We should ALL be in unions. We all need the help of our co-workers sometimes to bargain with bosses who are unfair. Can you imagine how much better 'customer service' would be at just about any store if workers were paid and treated better?

"The tendency of some people who are NOT right-wing folks at all to blame workers astounds me.

"Like many Philadelphians, my own middle-class existence can be traced back to the economic stability that my father's union and his father's union before him provided to our family.

"The right to organize, collectively bargain and strike if necessary is incredibly important. Lots of us have been able to build paths out of poverty and into the middle-class because of unions. And that path should not be cut off for anyone today.

"We can have a conversation later about how much more organized labor needs to do to actually engage and organize the thousands of working class and low-income Philadelphians who have no hope right now of ever joining a union and who will suffer badly because of this strike. That's an important convo to have too.

"But today, I support Local 234."

UPDATE 3:33 pm: Video from the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia's "Bike the Strike" effort at City Hall.


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Comments 1 - 15 of 15
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1. Hank said... on Nov 3, 2009 at 10:32AM

“Before immediately reacting with scorn for the union, recall that the contract expired in MARCH 2009 and employees have worked since then with no new agreement. This is wholly on MANAGEMENT, who have no excuse for not getting a new deal done by now!”

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2. Jefferson said... on Nov 3, 2009 at 10:52AM

“Union leadership had to opportunity to accept a reasonable offer in keeping with current economic standards. There's no way in this day and age healthcare costs are able to support contributions from just the employer. Heck, you should be thankful for benefits you have...otherwise, watch us boycott SEPTA the moment the next fare increase comes. $3 base fare anyone?”

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3. Tom said... on Nov 3, 2009 at 11:05AM

“Don't blame the rank and file of the union. This was Willy browns choice, he called the strike without telling any of the union rank and file. I work for septa and did not find out we were on strike till I was half way to work. Belive me we are just as mad as you are.”

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4. Jenn said... on Nov 3, 2009 at 01:12PM

“Wow. PW quoted "The Monty Way," which is clearly full of integrity. PW Fail.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Nov 4, 2009 at 04:34AM

“All septa employees under local 234 should be relieved of their duties, effective immediately, and the cities transit system should be nationalized. It may not run very well initially, but it will run. The citizens of Pennsylvania deserve better than what these glutenous imbeciles have provided thus far. Let us be done with them, once and for all.”

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6. Ahmed said... on Nov 4, 2009 at 06:05AM

“OK! First of all R3 Elwyn (not supposed to get effected), first train of the morning out of Philly was 57 minutes late, then later that night going back towards Philly was 1hour and 3 minutes late. And then what about the terminals and subways....damn SEPTA! you want a contract renew, get your own shit straight first. Clean the damn piss off the floor, wash your buses and clean the seats once in a while. And when someone asks you (you as a Septa worker) for some direction, be nice enough to answer them or politely ask them to move on. Hey push comes to shove in this economy everyone can be replaced. YES the initial cost will be more but, there are too many people who need jobs and who are willing to work without a contract. Get your people to do their money's worth of fuck off with the contract. SEPTA (Sad Excuse for Public Transportation Authority).

At the least consider straightening out the employees and fixing this shit hole of a Septa system before a 4 year contract again.”

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7. Lyndsey said... on Nov 4, 2009 at 04:21PM

“I just moved to NC and I was feeling homesick until I learned about the strike. Going through 2 of those was enough for me.”

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8. Lyndsey said... on Nov 4, 2009 at 04:21PM

“I just moved to NC and I was feeling homesick until I learned about the strike. Going through 2 of those was enough for me.”

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9. Lyndsey said... on Nov 4, 2009 at 04:21PM

“I just moved to NC and I was feeling homesick until I learned about the strike. Going through 2 of those was enough for me.”

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10. lerinnenatalia said... on Nov 4, 2009 at 07:46PM

“Firstly, this constant striking, every 2 or 3 years that septa does, is eventually going to backfire. People are going to get used to alternate ways of getting around and once Septa is off Strike, they may see a sudden decrease of passengers. Secondly, septa people are the most greedy, childish, spoiled brats Ive ever encountered. And the reason for that is, there is NO competition. Septa is the only half decent form of public trans. this city has. They can strike all they want, its not like anyone is going to show them up. Thirdly, its so sad that even in a recession, when people can barely find jobs, they actually put the jobs people do have at risk. You people are lucky you even have jobs at all. You get paid like 22bucks an hour to drive a bus. You dont need higher education, you dont need anything but a HS diploma and a clean driving record. I think all of you should just get fired. Plenty of people dont have jobs, Im sure theyd be more the happy to take yours.”

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11. Anonymous said... on Nov 5, 2009 at 02:01PM

“MAYBE I would feel a little more sympathetic toward SEPTA workers if I had any evidence that they provided good or reliable service. Buses are constantly late or don't arrive at all. I leave my house at 7AM to go to school and I can be waiting for a bus from anywhere between 5 and 40 minutes. Drivers have miserable, atrocious attitudes and customer service is piss-poor, to put it mildly. Its nearly impossible to ask a driver a question about the schedule or route without getting rudely snapped at in response. The only reason I even bothered to give these people my business in the first place is because, unlike them, I dont have a job and TrailPasses for the Regional Rail are more expensive.

This is my final straw with these people. When the strike is over, I will continue to take the Regional Rail. $116 seems like a small price to pay to never have to sit on another dirty bus or subway car, or to face an unpredictable schedule, or interact with another surly driver.”

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12. mike mcguire said... on Nov 8, 2009 at 02:49PM

“fuck septa fuck septa fuck septa i hope they all die!!!”

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13. mikeyk said... on Nov 8, 2009 at 10:08PM

“you have to be fucking kidding me. This is a discrace economy has a 10.2 percent unemployement rate. Fire all them low life fucks and put there family out on the streets I bet them fucking idiots wouldn't stop the bus or work for nothing. Bull shit I have to change my ways cause them. Ps fuck you septa and all you union fucks hope ur grandmom like mine was stuck at work cause you left her there when you went on strike for a pay raise when people are fighting over jobs fuck septa can I can't stress it anymore”

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14. james said... on Feb 16, 2010 at 10:44AM

“septa is the lousy transit co.on earth,get septa out of philly why don't they
change the name to "SEPTIC SYSTEM" because that what it smells like.
i got 2 words for septa....."FUCK YOU"”

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15. Angela Frye said... on Nov 15, 2014 at 08:58AM

“I believe that it time to boycott septa now before the next contract run- out. Septa unions and policy's must change. Its a dam shame when the only bus system we have to count on to go work, our children need to go to school, doctor appointments, or just having to go places to handle personal business rely on this horrible, union of people, who don't give a dam about you or your children, mother, father or grandparents just their family's welfare. When people like Septa unions employee can veto to shut down a whole city without proper notice and leaving people within hours to find some kind of transportation to get home. If someone read this post, please email me on how we can write a policy or form boycott movement against these greedy union of people. History is proven through people such as Rose Parks Dr. Martin Luther King, 10,000 black railroad porters change the way transportation companies treat its citizens. Today, it does not matter what color, or race or gender you are.”


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