JOANN JACKSON-SMITH, who has driven a SEPTA bus for three years, went to her first Transport Workers Local 234 strike vote yesterday, and brought her daughters Jasmin, 13, and Jenevieve, 11, to give them a living civics lesson.

"When you stand together as a group and fight for what you believe in, you stand strong," Jackson-Smith said after more than 1,000 union members voted unanimously to authorize a strike if negotiations with SEPTA management break down.

"I've never done anything like this before," Jackson-Smith said. "When I first walked in, I felt kind of intimidated. Then I listened to the speeches and I knew this is what I want."

Jasmin and Jenevieve smiled proudly at their mom.

"They think I'm cool right now," Jackson-Smith said, smiling back, "because I'm standing up for something important to all of us."

The big gap between pensions for management and for Local 234's 4,700 bus, subway and trolley operators and maintenance workers is what packed a union hall on South Columbus Boulevard for the strike vote.

The pension issue worries Rhonda Hill, a SEPTA bus driver for 32 years, who said: "We pay the same amount into our pension that management pays, but we end up with much less. That's not right."

Hill said the strike authorization is necessary because "SEPTA management always plays hardball but the public doesn't see management - the public sees us. When the public needs something, it tells us. So we want fair pensions and fair pay."

Ferdinand Romero, who has driven a bus out of Frankford depot for 24 years, said: "For 24 years, the history seems to be that we work without a contract for months, and it gets to the point where nothing's happening, so we vote to authorize a strike.

"Then coincidentally, sad to say, when we have struck in the past, the politicians suddenly got involved and the whole thing was resolved quickly. That's on SEPTA, not on us."

The big gap between union worker and management pensions, Romero said, is part of SEPTA's effort to "establish a class system within the workforce. That's not right."

SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams issued a statement that the transit agency has been given no sign that "a strike is imminent."