Philly Strikes Out

Just hours after the conclusion of last night’s game 5 of the World Series between the Phillies and the Yankees some 5,100 bus, trolley, subway, and mechanics belonging to Transport Union Workers Union Local 234 in Philadelphia walked off the job, idling a significant portion of southeastern Philadelphia’s transit service affecting 450,000 riders per day and having significant negative economic and safety implications.

Well, at least they were kind enough to honor the wishes of elected officials who, according to published reports, asked them not to go on strike while the World Series was in town. The Philadelphia Inquirer noted that the Governor himself noted that a strike during the Series would give the City "a little bit of a black eye" while national attention was focused on the City. Perhaps he had fear of another "the Bronx is burning" moment occurring.

So now residents of Philadelphia and the southeast corner can take consolation in the fact that people around the nation aren’t tuned into the imbalance of power that exists in Pennsylvania in regards to its transit unions. They hold all of the cards and can shut the system down to get what they want. It just happened four years ago in Philadelphia when the system was idled for a week. It has come precariously close here in Pittsburgh until the intervention of elected officials and national unions prevented a strike, only by caving in to union demands.

Pennsylvania needs to get out of the small minority of states that allow transit workers to go on strike. That likely won’t happen. So here’s what should be done: the Governor’s own Transportation Funding and Reform Commission report from three years ago said that SEPTA (and PAT) should be required to "evaluate competitive contracting" in transit service "at least one every four years in concert with the expiration of labor contracts". That would allow private operators to bid and compete against the public sector unions for the right to provide service. Not surprisingly, the Transit Workers Union wants to try to erase provisions in the current labor contract that allow for outside contractors to do repair and maintenance work on vehicles.

How outrageous! TWU workers want it all and then some. Consider that the state legislature just permitted Philadelphia to increase its sales tax another point in order to fund its anemic pensions, much of which is likely a result of over-promises to unions. For a City that has now accounted for a significant share of all transit strikes since 2000, the Governor does not need to worry about the City getting a black eye-it already has one.