Of the dozens of activists protesting outside of SEPTA’s Center City headquarters, at least two, if not all, are patrons of the transit giant and were indeed inconvenienced by the striking of its workers, but they marched in solidarity with the aggrieved nonetheless, expressing empathy, though not every Philadelphian has been empathetic of the roughly 5,000 laborers who walked off the job Tuesday at 12:01am.
While I interviewed Ms. Ernestine Bristow, a mother who, prior to Tuesday’s protest, was forced to drive her twin boys to school and daughter to work, a passer-by, thinking the activists were actually the picketing workers, shouted: “Get back to work assholes!”
And when I arrived on the scene, a younger black gentleman, clearly frustrated by the strike, was arguing with an activist until said gentlemen gained understanding of why the strike occurred, at which point he threw up a fist and gave nod, a blessing of sorts, for the resistance to continue.
As to how long the strike will last, Mr. Matthew Wang, a carpenter employed by SEPTA who does a lot of the maintenance and upkeep of stations and facilities, told me “for as long as it takes.”
To those who are both angered and stranded due to the strike, Mr. Wang said they should “put the pressure on SEPTA” to issue a fair contract, one that would account for the true cost of “healthcare” among other things. Indeed, the laborers aren’t just pushing for monetary augmentations – “there’s a huge disparity” in what’s contributed to the pensions of managers and workers said Mr. Wang – but also working conditions, like the ability to take a break or go to the bathroom in between routes.
Mr. Vince Thompson, a news reporter for 900am-WURD, Pennsylvania’s only black talk radio station, has been covering the contract negotiations and confirmed to Techbook Online that the strike is less about wages and benefits – it’s been at least two years since SEPTA workers had a contract – and more about work rules changes.
“All those little things that people take for granted” is what these workers are fighting for, said Ms. Bristow, who’s a former SEPTA employee of a decade and a daily user of its services.
Ms. Gwen Snyder, an activist who at times on Tuesday chanted through a bullhorn, is also a daily rider of SEPTA and admitted to being grossly inconvenienced. Yet, still, she said it’s much more important that “we stand with our neighbors” who want to work and retire with dignity.
Mr. Randy Robinson, an adviser and supporter of TWU Local 234, the union representing the striking transportation workers, said he was grateful to see the solidarity from activists and called for more public engagement, as SEPTA is the public’s agency and is accountable, first and foremost, to the people of the city.
Mr. Brown was re-elected as President of TWU Local 234 in October with a mandate to draw a line in the sand and provide a fix to the grievances, said Mr. Robinson.
“Willie Brown has always been a guy known for caring about his members and being tough with SEPTA,” Mr. Thompson, a public transit rider who has had to rely on Uber since the strike, said.
The veteran news reporter added: “There’s no love fest between TWU and SEPTA.”
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