By Jim Melwert
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The union representing thousands of transit workers in Philadlephia says they’re starting contract talks with Septa well in advance of the expiration date of their current contract.
Transport Workers’ Union local 234 says they’re getting the negotiations underway today, seven months ahead of the March 14th expiration date of the City Transit Division contract with Septa.
The early start coincides with elections at TWU local 234, but current president John Johnson says, “This is not about the politics of TWU, this is about the membership of TWU. And the off-branch of that is the ridership. We do not want to do anything that could be construed negatively.”
Meaning, he says, that they will do everything to avoid a strike like the six-day work stoppage of 2009, when buses came to a halt in the middle of the night.
“No one wants there to be a service disruption,” responds Septa spokeswoman Gerri Williams, “and if starting early is going to avert any type of work stoppage, we’re all for it.”
TWU officials say they’ll also address contracts for Suburban and Frontier transit divisions. Those contracts affect more than 5,000 unionized workers with Septa, and many many more commuters who rely on mass transit.
Former Septa rider Jean Lavonn says the 2009 strike forced him to buy a car.
“Cost me an arm and a leg, but I’m not going through that again, So Septa goes on strike? Good luck to them,” he said. “I can always get to work now.”
“I mean, you understand what’s at stake here,” another man in center city said. “I mean, why do you have to be out on strike before you start? Do it before the deadline, I think that’s what you’re typical citizen wants, pretty much.”
The union says they’re starting negotiations on things like safety, training, and work rules which too often get lost amid finaincial issues. But the commuters’ advice to both sides is: compromise, work together, and get it done.