SEPTA, union reach tentative deal on two-year contract, avoiding strike

To be finalized, the agreement must be ratified by TWU Local 234 members and approved by the SEPTA board.

A transit security officer works on the platform of the Girard stop

A transit security officer works on the platform of the Girard stop of the Market-Frankford Line train on July 15, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

SEPTA officials on Friday announced that a tentative agreement has been reached between the  Transport Workers Union Local 234 and the transit agency on a new two-year contract, narrowly avoiding a strike authorized by union members last week.

Andrew Busch, director of media relations for SEPTA, said the agreement provides for wage gains, a one-time pandemic payment, and paid parental leave, among other benefits.

To be finalized, the agreement must be ratified by TWU Local 234 members and approved by the SEPTA board. A ratification vote will be held Friday,  Nov. 5.

Willie Brown, president of Local 234, said his members reacted positively to the deal and intend to ratify the agreement.

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“It shows some gratitude toward the membership that works everyday. I’m grateful for that. It boosts morale a little bit,” said Brown in an interview.

SEPTA is equally pleased the two sides could come together and avert a strike.

“I am very pleased that we were able to come to terms without a strike,” said TWU Local 234 President Willie Brown. “Our members are essential workers who move Philadelphia and who have risked their lives putting their own families at risk during this pandemic.”

“SEPTA’s frontline employees were critical to keeping our region moving during the worst of the pandemic,” said SEPTA CEO and General Manager Leslie S. Richards. “And this agreement reflects their dedication and sacrifice.”

Contract negotiations between the union and SEPTA began in July 2021. Brown called the bargaining period a “difficult time to negotiate a contract.”

“SEPTA is facing unprecedented challenges,” Brown said in a statement. “But our vice president Brian Pollitt did a magnificent job guiding the contract talks and getting us across the finish line. And, without question, the solidarity of our members was the key factor.”

The proposed contract includes yearly wage increases of three percent. TWU Local 234 members also will receive a pandemic hazard bonus of $1 for each hour worked between March 15, 2020, and March 15, 2021, to a maximum of $2,200.

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The proposed contract also includes two weeks of parental leave. Previously, pregnant employees were required to exhaust all sick leave before qualifying for unpaid pregnancy leave.

Busch told WHYY News both sides were meeting with an urgency to get a deal in place.

“We especially know that that’s critical now to not only provide fair compensation for our employees who have stayed on the front lines throughout the pandemic,” Busch said, “but also to try to avoid any kind of disruption for our riders.”

Kristina Gaglianese is among the many SEPTA riders who are relieved the agency didn’t go on strike. Most weekdays she uses the Broad Street Line to travel from her home in Center City to the clothing shop she owns in South Philly. 

“It’s a really easy commute. Otherwise, I’d be Ubering every morning, spending much more on transportation,” Gaglianese said. 

Fellow SEPTA rider Craig Bruns also uses the subway frequently to get to his job at the Independence Seaport Museum. But unlike Gaglianese, he said he wasn’t terribly concerned about a strike because he’s able to work from home if he needs to. 

He said he was more concerned about the union employees.

“Just my politics, I’ll always side with the workers getting the justice they’re due,” said Bruns.

SEPTA workers have gone on strike 10 times since 1975, with strikes ranging from four days to 108 days.

SEPTA officials stressed there will not be a work stoppage at the start of the Monday morning commute, when the union’s current agreement was set to expire. All services will operate on regular schedules.

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