SEPTA union claims no-strike rule threatens funding

Pennsylvania State Representative Kate Harper (R-Montgomery) has re-introduced legislation that would add SEPTA employees to the list of public employees like police and firefighters barred from walking off the job.

 The legislation is, predictably, opposed by SEPTA’s largest union, which is making the case that if the state annuls the right to strike, the Department of Labor could not sign off on the federal funding SEPTA receives from the Federal Transit Administration.

Representative Harper said Thursday that, “A SEPTA strike would cripple southeastern Pennsylvania and it would prevent people from getting to work and getting home again and snarl our roads in such a way that we can’t let them strike.”

However, Transport Workers Union Local 234 argues that the Federal Transit Act prevents changes to their existing bargaining rights.

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Local President Willie Brown heads the largest of SEPTA’s unions, whose 4,700 members are currently on the job without a contract.

“I wonder, what are Representative Harper’s, what are her motives,” he said Wednesday.

SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said the transit authority’s labor lawyers reviewed the text of the bill and spotted no problems that would impact federal funding. Similar legislation was last introduced in 2009 but failed to make it out of legislative committee.

At this stage, the Department of Labor is declining to weigh in.

A spokesman for the Department said that “The Federal Transit Act does not prohibit any state from passing laws relating to transit employees. Whether a state law impacts the worker protections provided for … is determined on a case by case basis as applications for federal transit grants come to DOL for certification.”

Spokesman for the House Republicans, Steve Miskin, said the leadership plans to bring the bill up for a vote, noting that, “there is wide interest in Rep. Harper’s legislation.”

This article has been updated.

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