Who is Brian Pollitt, the new president of the SEPTA union?
Brian Pollitt, the president of SEPTA's largest union, started as a bus driver in the Callowhill section of the city.
After longtime president of Transport Workers Union Local 234 Willie Brown stepped down, his second-in-command Brian Pollitt took over as the leader of the SEPTA’s largest labor union.
In Pollitt’s own words, Pollitt, 55, and Brown, 58, have been Batman and Robin for the union that represents 5,000 operators of buses trolleys and rapid-transit trains in the city, as well as mechanics and others. Pollitt now takes over with little less than a year left in the presidential term, with an election next September.
Here are a few things to know about the new union leader.
Philly-born and raised
Pollitt was born and raised in Philadelphia and has worked at SEPTA since 1990, when he started as a bus operator. Pollitt started out of Callowhill, while Brown was a trolley operator out of the Elmwood depot, he said.
Brown and Pollitt met in 1993 as they drove on bus and trolley lines in West Philly.
“We pretty much reigned West Philly,” said Pollitt. “From the first time meeting Willie, we wanted the same things. We linked up and did good things.”
Rising through the ranks
Much like Brown, Pollitt steadily rose through the ranks of the union.
In 2002, Pollitt was elected vice president for Local 234. In 2008, Pollitt was elected executive vice president to Brown’s president. After losing the 2010 election, Pollitt and Brown ran once again in 2013 on the same ticket and won, he said.
Since 2013, Pollitt served as Brown’s executive vice president.
Though more soft-spoken than Brown, Pollitt has a deep knowledge of SEPTA’s inner workings and has been a key negotiator in talks with the transit authority for the past 20 years. Pollitt is credited with much of the day to day bargaining that led to this year’s labor agreement, averting a SEPTA strike.
An on-the-floor leader
Pollitt is known as a leader who often touches base with union members on shop floors and aboard trains, trolleys and buses.
Although the union last month ratified a two-year contract that includes wage increases of 3% each year and a COVID-19 pandemic hazard bonus, Pollitt said he is already looking to the next round of negotiations.
“In this business, two years goes by in the blink of an eye,” Pollitt said. “So I want them to be mentally physically, and financially prepared for the next round of negotiations.”
Pollitt says he will continue Brown’s emphasis on the need for workers and protecting them from harm. At a City Council hearing last month on violence and disorder on the SEPTA system, Pollitt described showing Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez the abuse bus drivers take on the Nite Owl service, which replaces the Market-Frankford Line and Broad Street Line overnight.
”It was like an apocalyptic movie,” Pollitt testified at the time.
Business as usual
Pollitt said the transition in leadership will be smooth, as he worked in tandem with Brown for most of the union’s contentious contract negotiations and most-impactful decisions. His taking on the role of president will just be “business as usual,” he said.
“We were tied together by the hip,” said Pollitt. “We were like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.”
Though the next round of negotiations is his current focus, Pollitt plans to run for president once the current term ends.
“We’re going to continue moving the same way we’ve been moving the last 20 years,” said Pollitt.