Friday Rant: A Bad Week in Philly, But Not What You Might Think

It's been a rough week here in Philadelphia. SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority) was struck at 3:00 AM Monday by Transport Workers Union Local 234 and the Phillies lost the World Series. In my view, the event not involving that ball club with overpaid employees and celebrity girlfriends is the one that warrants scrutiny for my rant this Friday.

Transit strikes occur in all cities from time to time but the issues surrounding this particular strike are especially absurd. Today's Inquirer sums up the facts as follows: "The leaders ... [of] 5,100 bus drivers, subway and trolley operators and mechanics rejected a contract that included a $1,250 bonus upon ratification, a 2.5 percent raise the second year, and a 3 percent raise in each of the final three years. It also called for no increase in the workers' health-insurance contributions, which are 1 percent of base pay. It called for a graduated increase in workers' contributions to their pensions, from 2 percent to 3.5 percent, and an increase in the maximum pension payment to retirees, from $27,000 a year to $30,000 a year. In addition to increased pension contributions from SEPTA, the union was seeking a 3 percent raise for each year of a four-year contract."

Sounds like a darned good contract offer doesn't it? Not according to Union President Willie Brown who's quoted saying "strikers would stay out as long as it takes to secure our pension". Something is not adding up here. Nearly 1,000,000 people ride SEPTA daily -- including the majority of school students whose parents must now arrive late to work and leave early to provide that transportation if, in fact, they have a vehicle with which to do so. Rush hour traffic -- as a result of the strike -- has dramatically impacted overall productivity and a very large number of workers in the city simply have no way to get to work.

Unemployment figures came out today and according to the LA Times "The jobless rate rose to 10.2% in October from 9.8% in September -- first time in the double digits since 1983." Now how, in these recessionary times, could the rank and file members of this union opt to strike essentially because the value of their pension fund is not what it once was? And in doing so wreak havoc with the lives of their customers whom they see every day and depend upon the transit system for their livelihood? Let's assume for a moment that SEPTA drivers are not stupid, but have been coerced into striking by their leadership. This sort of myopia, when it comes to the overwhelming economic conditions that currently prevail, can only result from being fed very wrong information and swallowing it. A disconnect of such proportion demands some sort of pre-emptive remedy going forward. The loss of over-all productivity, sorely needed lost tax base to a city in crisis -- to say nothing of customer hardship and placing school kids at increased risk -- commands it.

We constantly harp, analyze and dissect on these virtual pages about supplier visibility, vertical corporate communication, pooling resources, and the importance of staying on task and on the same page within the corporate environment. SEPTA and other large employers need to do the same -- perhaps even more so when it comes to providing essential services to their communities.

By providing well designed, interesting and stimulating programs to elucidate the complexities of local, national and world events via courses and forums for their employees, organizations like SEPTA could, overtime -- and at a fraction of the cost that a strike imposes -- potentially make a huge difference in combating the ignorance and malaise that leads to strikes such as this one in Philadelphia.

And so far as the Phillies go, we're all anxiously awaiting 2010.

William Busch

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