Just after midnight, SEPTA’s transit services across Philadelphia came to a sudden halt as 4,700 members of the authority’s largest union launched a strike that some fear might last through Election Day.
"We are not able to come to an agreement with SEPTA so as 12:01, we are officially on strike," Willie Brown, president of Transport Workers Union Local 234 told a press gaggle at midnight.
The labor agreement between TWU and SEPTA expired Tuesday at midnight, before the two sides could come together on a new contract. TWU authorized a strike two weeks ago.
Negotiators met over the weekend and reconvened again at 9:30 a.m. Monday morning. But as the sands in the hourglass slipped away, it became apparent that an accord wasn’t in the offing.
"We're pretty far apart," said Brown. "We're gonna stay here, go upstairs and keep exchanging demands, see if we can get it done tonight but I'm not optimistic we can."
An hour before, SEPTA officials seemed hopeful a deal was likely. Then the negotiations suddenly threw an engine rod and all progress stalled.
"The decision by TWU President Willie Brown leaves thousands of SEPTA customers without the transit services they rely on for travel to-and-from work, school and medical appointments," SEPTA responded in a press statement. SEPTA officials declined to comment further, other than to express frustration in the talks' late collapse. "In doing so, Mr. Brown walked away from a contract offer that would have provided his members pay raises, enhanced pension benefits, maintained health care coverage levels and continued job security, while also remaining fair and affordable for the taxpayers and riders who fund SEPTA."
Around 7 p.m., U.S. Rep Bob Brady arrived at the Sheraton to speak with TWU Local 234 legislative liaison Jeffery Brooks. Brady said he had heard concerns from the state director for Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania, Corey Dukes. Dukes "had a little concern," said Brady, who added that an election day strike would "hurt" the campaign. Brady left shortly after talking briefly with Brooks.
Local 234, along with TWU International, endorsed Clinton during the primaries. A week after they authorized a strike, Local 234 gathered at the same union hall to campaign for Clinton. TWU International President Harry Lombardo, a Philly native who began his career at Local 234 and SEPTA, joined the negotiations Monday afternoon.
If the walk out persists, SEPTA says they will seek an injunction in federal court to suspend it over Election Day. "If we foresee an agreement will not come to pass, SEPTA intends to seek to enjoin the strike for November 8th to ensure that the strike does not prevent any voters from getting to the polls and exercising their right to vote," the authority said in its statement. SEPTA would file an emergency temporary restraining order in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
At a 5:30 press conference, spokeswoman Carla Showell-Lee said that SEPTA, along with Governor Tom Wolf and Mayor Jim Kenney, urged TWU to stay on the job and at the negotiating table past the midnight deadline. But as Brady later noted, when Local 234 voted to authorize a strike, they also voted against extending the deadline. "You should never limit yourself to have a deadline like that," said Brady, who was still hopeful for a last-second stay of the strike. "That scares me. I'd rather they didn't do that."
Mayor Kenney issued a statement via e-mail shortly after midnight. "I urge both SEPTA and the Transport Workers Union to maintain communication despite the work stoppage. Tens of thousands of Philadelphians rely on the buses, trolleys and subways, so it is vital for everyone that this situation be resolved as quickly as possible."
Governor Wolf issued his own statement via a spokesperson soon after: "Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania residents rely on SEPTA to travel each day to and from work and school and the inability of TWU and SEPTA to reach an agreement is devastating for many of these individuals and their families. This will create extreme hardships for the city and for businesses. I have spoken at length with both sides and I continue to urge them to come together and continue talking until a compromise is reached."
Brown said he would be willing to go to binding arbitration to avoid a strike. SEPTA officials said they that wasn't an option they were willing to consider. In binding arbitration, an independent panel would listen to both sides and then set the labor agreement's terms. SEPTA officials available after midnight were unsure how such a arbitration panel would be decided.
For more information check SEPTA’s Service Interruption Guide.
All parking banned on Broad Street between South Street and Spring Garden Street.
All Philadelphians—not just regular SEPTA riders—should prepare for significant disruptions to their commutes, especially the evening rush hour. The strike shut down all of SEPTA’s city transit services: Buses, trolleys, trackless trolleys and subways that operate in the city, which usually handle 884,000 trips a day, will not run.
Regional Rail, the Norristown High Speed Line, Suburban Bus routes (with some modifications), the LUCY in University City, Route 310 (Horsham Breeze), Route 204, Route 205, Cornwells Heights Parking Shuttle, Trolley Routes 101 and 102, and CCT Connect will remain in service.
PATCO will also remain open and has Philadelphia stations at 16th and Locust, 13th and Locust, 10th and Locust, and 8th and Market.
Uber is giving customers discounted rates near SEPTA stations. Lyft is offering discounts to new users. Zipcar is offering $5 hourly bookings for 100 of its cars near SEPTA stations and members will be able to reserve cars for five days at the price of three.
If you end up driving, expect roads to be congested. During the last transit strike—a six-day affair in 2009—traffic snarled across the region, emanating out from Philadelphia to affect commutes in the surrounding suburbs.
Many transit riders will try to switch to Regional Rail, which will crowd platforms and lead to particularly stuffed trains. SEPTA will try to run additional trains, but a lingering crew shortage will likely prevent the authority from boosting capacity significantly. Mother Nature will further compound problems: It’s ‘slippery rail season’ where wet leaves on the tracks force trains to slow down. SEPTA is also still missing around a tenth of its railcar fleet as it continues to repair the widespread defect that sidelined 120 new Silverliner V cars this summer.
Reverse commuters will be affected as well—delays from the crowded Regional Rail trains into Center City will bleed over into outbound service.
If you can walk or bicycle to work, now is the time, even if you usually drive. Indego bike share will increase capacity at four stations in Center City, plus offer a valet service at the Municipal Services Building, which means that riders won’t have to worry about finding an empty dock there to drop off bikes.
Drivers should plan for significant traffic delays. Philadelphians with flexible work arrangements are encouraged to telecommute or switch up their schedules to avoid the roads during rush hours.
While suburban services will continue to run, riders should expect crowding on them. And, if the strike lasts deep into November, the shutdown might spread: Contracts with suburban maintenance employees represented by Local 234 and 365 vehicle operators in Delaware County represented by the Sheet Metal, Air Rail & Transportation Workers Local 1594 expire on November 18th. Another group of bus operators in Montgomery and Bucks Counties have a contract ending November 23rd. All of those employees would likely adopt whatever agreement TWU signs for its City Transit workers.