Why Are There So Many SEPTA Unions?

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I would think that having SEPTA on one side of the negotiations, and a bunch of different unions on the other would weaken labor’s negotiating power.

Another question I have is whether the fragmentation in labor representation makes some types of service upgrades more politically difficult.

For instance, seeing as it’s not the 19th century anymore, there’s really no good reason for punching tickets to be a human’s job. SEPTA has too many conductors punching tickets, but not enough engineers.

I could be wrong about this, but wouldn’t it be easier for one big union to negotiate retraining for conductors to become engineers or shift them to other parts of the system so that we can finally install level boarding platforms and upgrade regional rail to rapid transit that comes every 20-30 minutes instead of hourly?

More frequent public transit definitely has a stronger claim on the broad public interest than the conductor jobs, but looking at how other countries have threaded the labor politics needle, it’s clear that simply laying off the conductors and plowing the savings into fare cuts isn’t a politically feasible option. For political reasons, we’d need to do what the Paris Metro did when they automated driving on Line 1 – shift people to other parts of the system and promote others.

Google Translate does a decent job of getting the point across:

Almost all former drivers have already been distributed to other lines, forty were promoted supervisor of operations, one of the “future jobs” line 1, the model 14. The fate of the former was sealed in 2007 in a protocol that included if they were willing to change course, the allocation of a premium and mutation in the terminal they want. The amount of the premium, about 4,500 euros, was declining; later they accepted their departure, more pay was low.

Now, we’re not even talking about automating rail lines here in Philadelphia yet, or really anywhere in the United States, but we do need to start those talks, because that’s a key part of achieving the SEPTA 24/7 vision, not just for the rapid transit lines but also eventually for the whole regional rail system. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to retrain conductors as engineers if we’re hoping to automate the engineers’ jobs eventually too. But whatever happens, the political reality is that we’ll need to reallocate conductors and engineers to other parts of the system. Redundancies aren’t going to be an option.

I don’t think we have to choose between efficiency and protecting union jobs, but there’s some tension there currently, and we really need somebody on the labor side with the clout to negotiate these staff shifts and retrainings for the greater good of more frequent service for transit riders – especially the people who work the late shift and shouldn’t have to drive late at night.

This entry was posted in Economy, Labor and Unions, Transportation.

9 Responses to Why Are There So Many SEPTA Unions?

  1. DelcoReformer says:

    One big union should be the ultimate purpose of the labor movement, but the rent-seeking leadership and members of the various little unions don’t always understand that.

  2. Sean Kitchen says:

    I think it has more to do with the management class as well. If break up the union into many smaller unions, it will be easier for the management class to pit one union against another and ultimately force greater concessions among employees.

  3. david says:

    this is the train nerd side of me, septa regional rail employees are governed by different work rules. if you take a look back to stories about the septa strike in early 80’s and the closure of the newtown branch in bucks county there is an explanation on wikipedia

  4. genuinelysortofyourneighbor,andconcernedaboutthat says:

    …just to clear this up (I sent Jon something, perhaps he’ll sort it out) three of the four “different” unions mentioned in the article are Willie Brown’s TWU Local 234, i.e. not actually different unions.