Strike Warning cancelled: DEAL IMMINENT

The Inquirer’s Paul Nussbaum is currently tweeting photos of elected officials and SEPTA executives congregating in advance of what appears to be an imminent announcement of a contract agreement. More as it comes over series the tubes.

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SEPTA/TWU Strike Kremlinology

The steady drip, drip, drip of signs and portents leaking out of this week’s round of negotiations between SEPTA and its biggest union have finally ended in a press conference that fills me with despair for entirely non-strike-related reasons.

The key bit is this: There will not be a strike next Monday. Election Day on Tuesday will go undisrupted. The earliest plausible date for a walkout is Monday, November 10th. And it is increasingly unclear whether we will actually go through a strike at all.

All day today, various Democratic officials were letting it be known that they had talked to TWU 234 and asked the union to keep talking through Election Day. If lower-ranking officials were making those calls, you know that Democratic City Committee Chair Bob Brady was working the phones hard, whether directly or indirectly. In any event, while we may never be privy to the exact details, we do know that it worked. In fact anonymous TWU sources being quoted in the media have begun waving giant flags that the union wants tensions cooled down, at least for now.

The parade of political posturing climaxed at the evening press conference, where State Senator (and a likely next Mayor of Philadelphia) Anthony Williams, who announced progress in the negotiations would mean at least a week’s reprieve, described the deal as “85% done”. That, of course, is a meaningless statement, which is in stiff competition with itself as to whether it is more abusive of mathematics or the English language. And it’s not the first time we’ve heard the charm offensive either: a deal was described as “close” not long after the contracts expired in April.

But even if the new rhetorical tone is more about allowing workers to save face even while they remain on the job, than it is about an agreement being imminent, I’ll still take it. There is no upside for anyone to allow the vitriolic brinksmanship that marked last Sunday’s strike authorization vote to continue. And TWU is still in a weak position.

STRIKE WARNING: SEPTA Regional Rail

It is the duty of this blog to forecast that the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Division 71, will commence a strike action against SEPTA’s Regional Rail Division tonight at 12:01 am.

What remains unclear is how long the BLET will remain off the job. Under the Railway Labor Act, President Obama may, at request, establish a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to take over the discussions between the union and management. Workers would be legally enjoined from striking for 240 days.

This strike has snuck up on Greater Philadelphia, because requesting a PEB is standard procedure, and everyone, including me, was still factoring in the 240 day delay. But SEPTA management has decided on a gambit to catch the unions short and risk a strike now in the summer, when the city is better equipped to handle a strike, rather than wait until next February when the weather will be against both SEPTA and its passengers. SEPTA is also disrupting any pre-assembled plans to co-ordinate strikes with City and Suburban transit workers, represented by TWU 234. What remains to be seen is what Governor Corbett will do; he has indicated that he will request a PEB on his own, as soon as the engineers walk. Whether he is capable of following through on that effectively remains to be seen.

The BLET, which represents Regional Rail’s engineers, has been without a contract since 2010. The proximate trigger of the walkout is SEPTA’s unilateral imposition of contract terms announced for this weekend, which voids the RLA’s prohibition against striking during negotiations.

The last Regional Rail strike began on March 15, 1983, and lasted 108 days. The primary conflicts were about new work rules imposed or proposed by SEPTA on its takeover of Regional Rail from Conrail that January.

Fuck the State

Jon Geeting brings the truth at Keystone Politics:

…Philadelphia and Pittsburgh’s transit funding is excessively dependent on both state funding and fares.

For political-geographic reasons, our transit authorities will never receive generous funding from the state. No, this is not a coordination problem between state reps. There just aren’t enough transit riders to make growing transit ridership a political priority for a sufficient number of people at the state level. So for as long as we continue to depend on the state, we’re going to have mediocre transit…

Where should most of the money come from then? We need a local option tax, to raise more of the money from local sources. And that local source should be the land values around transit stations.

State lawmakers need to give us the option to choose to tax ourselves, via ballot initiative, by assessing a tax on land within the walkable half-mile radius around transit stations. Everybody in the 5-county SEPTA region, and in the Allegheny County region, would vote on this, and the majority decision would prevail. We would use this tax to finance operations, and network expansions, and fare cuts.

We need lawmakers to give us this power. We need them to give it to us right now.

Now, he and I differ on the exact minutiae of how we should tax our own land, but he’s absolutely right that as long as we are at the mercy of Harrisburg, we’ll always be a crayon shortage away from disaster. This is no way for a proud people to live. SEPTA provides a lot of real economic value to this region, which we would miss if it went away. Harrisburg should let us put our own money up as an investment on our own future.

The subject line comes from The Stranger’s take on an ongoing transit-funding standoff between Seattle and the Washington State Legislature, where the dynamics are very different than what you find in Philadelphia, because Seattle and King County have local taxation power to keep King County Metro afloat in the face of a suicidally hostile state.

Simple Answers to Silly Questions

One of the odd “perks” of owning a WordPress blog is getting to see some of the search terms that cause people to find your blog. For instance:

  • how much does a parking permit cost in philadelphia

$35 per year for one car. More for additional cars.

  • manayunk/norristown line safe

Yes. (Assuming that’s a question with “Is the” in front.) Much safer than driving, certainly.

During the snow last week, we had,

  • is septa closed today

SEPTA does not close for weather short of an actual hurricane. Maybe a 25-year blizzard. Snow and ice can shut down individual rail lines, or cause buses to detour around specific problem spots, but SEPTA will keep running through fairly serious weather. It is generally safe to assume that SEPTA is harder than you.

And last night’s inspiration for this post:

  • does the government own septa

Uh, YES. YES YES YES IT DOES.

Specifically, SEPTA is a wholly-owned arm of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, so if you care about SEPTA, it’s your State Rep, State Senator, and Governor you need to put pressure on. And by “put pressure on”, I mean tell them to work harder to fund SEPTA, or else you will vote for someone else. And then, if they don’t, follow through on that threat, in a primary if your conscience prevents you from voting for another party in a general election. State politicians get away with things because they assume that nobody knows who they are, and nobody cares. Sadly, they’re right too often. I don’t like that, and neither should you. This stuff matters.

You will go to space today

Given the massive cloud of rumor, uncertainty, and arm-twisting that hung over Harrisburg this morning, I resolved not to write up a final postmortem of transportation in Pennsylvania until the General Assembly’s 11:00p curfew had passed tonight, to allow for any last minute surprises. Still, I was riding a train out to the suburbs to watch NASA launch a rocket from Wallops Island when the unexpected word came in, that a third vote on the Micozzie Amendment had passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

So, thanks to the 98 Representatives who voted ‘aye’ yesterday, and six Republican and two Democratic switchers who got us over the line tonight, we will have merely bad roads, bridges, and transit in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as opposed to non-existent roads, bridges, and transit. Hooray for small miracles. But that will keep the wolf from the door for the next year, as we enter a major election year and normal politics grinds to a halt. And for the 10,500 daily riders of the Media/Elwyn Line, that should be enough to keep their ride moving. So, thank you, PA House. After trying every alternative, you managed to do your job. And since you did have a choice in the matter, and seriously contemplated not doing your job, I supposed I’m grateful for it.

The official roll call on the vote is here, for those of you who want to know where your Representative stood. The bill now goes back to the Senate for approval.

My especial thanks to Mary Wilson and Kate Giammarise for live-tweeting the action from the State Capitol. They brought as much sense as could be brought to an often nonsensical week, and opinion-slingers like me couldn’t function without shoeleather reporters like them on the ground. Thanks, and we’ll see you again in 2015.

Late breaking news: Micozzie Amendment fails 98-103, PA Transportation in limbo

The Micozzie Amendment, which was the House’s compromise plan to fund transportation in Pennsylvania, was defeated 98-103 at 9:52pm tonight. Word from livebloggers in the gallery in Harrisburg is that moderates from both parties voted aye, while staunch union backers on the left of the Democratic caucus teamed up with anti-everything members of the Republican far right to kill the bill.

No word yet on what Plan B is.