A SEPTA bus
Source: SEPTA Facebook

SEPTA Union Authorizes a Strike—Who Will Be Impacted?

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Oct. 25 2021, Published 2:00 p.m. ET

On October 24, the Philadelphia-area transit union authorized over 5,000 Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) workers to strike. However, the authorization doesn’t mean that a strike is certain. The union’s current contract SEPTA expires at midnight on October 31. If an agreement is not reached on a new contract, the workers are authorized to go on a strike next month. So, why is SEPTA considering a strike in the first place?

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First, it's important to note that while the strike would affect buses, trolleys, the subway and elevated train lines in Philadelphia, it would not affect regional rail. The last time SEPTA workers went on strike was in 2016 when the biggest issue was retirement benefits. Since 1975, SEPTA has experienced 12 other strikes.

SEPTA's union is considering a strike over wages and parental leave.

The union is asking for a four-year contract with wage increases and a “pandemic payment” as transit workers had to deal with increased COVID-19 risks, including attacks and abuses from passengers. They are also asking for a paid parental leave.

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septa bus driver salary
Source: SEPTA Facebook

The Transit Authority, on the other hand, offered a two-year contract with a wage increase and pandemic payment or a four-year deal that would peg any wage increase to SEPTA’s ability to pay. The agency said it can’t guarantee wage increases so far into the future, because post-pandemic transit use patterns are unclear. Per SEPTA, overall ridership is at 47 percent of pre-pandemic levels and the system reportedly continues to lose $1 million a day.

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Is SEPTA government owned?

SEPTA is a state authority, which operates public transportation in the city of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery for about 4 million people. It was founded in 1963 and has often grappled with structural, funding, and management issues.

It is a state-created authority with the majority of its board appointed by the five Pennsylvania counties it serves. SEPTA has the sixth-largest US rapid transit system by ridership.

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About 49 percent of SEPTA’s operating budget comes from state taxpayers, which is almost double the average among transit systems nationally. Additionally, 60 percent of SEPTA’s capital budget comes from the state.

What is the current salary for a SEPTA bus driver?

According to Indeed.com, an average SEPTA bus driver makes approximately $61,003 annually. This, according to the website, is 78 percent higher than the national average.

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Could a SEPTA strike be averted?

The authorization vote gives the union more bargaining power, since they don’t need to assemble whenever a strike action is needed. This saves time and also gives negotiation leverage to the union as the management remains fearful that a strike could happen anytime.

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The strike could be averted if both the sides are close to an agreement even as the contract expires. The union leaders could let the workers remain on job for some time while negotiations continue. They could also agree on an extension of the current deal.

Philadelphia residents are hoping to avert a strike that would impact the nearly 60,000 students and workers who rely on SEPTA. The Philadelphia School District said a walkout could mean that some or all of its schools will have to shift to 100 percent virtual learning.

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