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.
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 PhillyBurbs.com, 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:
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.
For commuters, the denial meant lost work hours, missed school days, and a status quo of disruption. TWU chief Willie Brown, obstinate as a toddler, was absolutely correct: there was little reason not to hate him.
Unionized labor may have its downsides, but the steady decline of union membership has been disastrous for American workers, including Pennsylvanians. That's one reason the TWU deserves your backing.
We’re hiding. We’re waiting on Harrisburg for permission to fix ourselves. We’re accepting defeat. We’re not punching people in the face for messing with us; we’re not spitting in their eye for looking at us the wrong way. We’re wussing out.
SEPTA continues its trail of terror as it defends the driving around of dead people on a public bus.