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Vol. 80/No. 43      November 14, 2016

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Striking Phila. transit workers insist: ‘No contract, no work!’

Militant/Janet Post
“Our fight is for the whole working class,” said Chris Conly, second from right, picketing SEPTA bus depot Nov. 1. Strike is for job safety, against attempt to gut medical insurance.
PHILADELPHIA — “No Contract, No Work!” chanted striking bus drivers and maintenance workers outside the Midvale Bus Depot here just after midnight Nov. 1. Some 4,700 members of Transport Workers Union Local 234 at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) walked out, halting buses, trains and trolleys across the city. Bus drivers, mechanics and trolley drivers picketed the bus depots. Union members had voted two weeks ago not to extend the contract if no contract was negotiated by the midnight deadline.

TWU members say the central issues are health care, retirement pay and safety for SEPTA workers and their passengers.

“We must help people understand why we’re on strike,” said Tanya Greer, a bus driver. “I took this job 22 and a half years ago because it had decent pay and benefits. Now they want to strip all that away from us, and we work so very hard. All we ask for is support as we fight for what we deserve.”

The TWU is fighting for work rule changes to protect drivers and passengers. The union wants a mandatory 14-hour period between shifts, rather than the current nine-hour down time, and to increase the contractually required five-minute breaks between routes to 10 minutes.

“SEPTA has had plenty of time to negotiate if they wanted to. The root of it all is lack of respect,” said Pete McElleney, a TWU member who works on the overhead lines. “The company thinks they can ignore the contract on working conditions and do as they please.”

“Health care is very important to us in this fight. SEPTA is pushing deep health care concessions,” said 33-year-old electrician Chris Conly, who works on 700-volt trolley lines. He and his wife have a newborn who is very sick. “Our fight is for the whole working class.”

Workers also want no cap on pensions, the same as management has.

SEPTA managers have tried to turn working-class sentiment against the strikers, saying the timing of the strike can keep people from getting to vote in the Nov. 8 presidential election. They say they will seek an injunction against the strike for Election Day.

Democratic Party officials, including Mayor Jim Kenney and Gov. Tom Wolf, both elected as “friends of labor,” urged the TWU not to strike, and have decried the disruption caused by the workers’ fight to defend their working conditions and their union. Bob Brady, Democratic congressman in the 1st Congressional District and a former official in the Carpenters union, told the press that the party in Pennsylvania was concerned the strike would weaken turnout for Hillary Clinton.

Regional Rail train lines, which are organized by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the International Association of Machinists, are the only mass transit running during the strike.

Members of those unions honored a TWU picket at the Wayne Junction Regional Rail train yard during evening rush hour the first day of the strike, causing substantial delays.
Related articles:
Solidarity with TWU strike against SEPTA
On the Picket Line
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