No one wants a strike.

"I often have no choice in the matter," said Willie Brown, 51, president of Transport Workers Local 234, the union representing SEPTA's bus drivers, subway operators, and trolley drivers.

"I don't think it's a matter of if we strike," he said. "It's simply a matter of when, unfortunately."

On Sunday, union members moved a step closer to a strike, voting to allow Brown to call workers off the job - any time, and without warning.

Question: You go on strike to gain benefits for workers, but do you worry that the people you are hurting most are the everyday working people who rely on transit to get to their jobs?

Answer: Even though we're on strike, it is as much for the riding public, who face the same issues that we have but have no one to fight for them.

Q: Do the members ever make up what they lose in wages while on strike?

A: Once you go on strike, you don't ever make up what you lost. But you lose more by not striking.

Q: For example?

A: Our pension fund. There's a discrepancy in the pension plan, where a 234 member puts in a certain amount and a manager puts in the same amount as a union member puts in, but a manager receives three times as much out of the pension fund as the 234 member. I think we've been on far too many strikes. That's why I'm going to dig in on this pension issue. If we resolve the pension issue, that would lessen the possibility of [future] strikes.

Q: How does one plan a strike?

A: Strike on a Monday, that's the ideal time, because if you do it on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, nobody really cares.

Q: What's the best season?

A: A summer strike is something I would not prefer. It's nice out. Everybody's walking and there's less impact. That sets up for a long, long strike.

Q: What did you want to be when you grew up?

A: A union president. When I was a little boy, a guy took me to a union function; it was a Christmas party. From that point forward, I wanted to be in a union.

Q: So, even before you became a trolley driver for SEPTA, you wanted to be TWU Local 234's leader?

A: Absolutely. I didn't come here to operate a trolley. That was my vehicle to get to the presidency. I wanted to be president from day one.

Q: Does it scare you - being responsible for SEPTA workers if they strike? After all, their wages stop. Their health benefits stop.

A: Absolutely. It's the unknown. If we go on strike, I don't know what the result is going to be. It's not only my members and their families - it depends on [my] making the right decisions.

Q: Sounds stressful.

A: Most of the time, I might wake up 10 times a night up until the contract is done, thinking about whether I said the right things, [whether] I'm doing the right thing.

Q: This is your second stint as president. After leading the union through SEPTA's last strike, the members voted you out.

A: I do the best I can and let the chips fall where they may. I don't cry over spilt milk. I don't do that.

Q: After losing, you returned to your job operating a trolley.

A: That would be my second-favorite job.

Q: Did your riders know who you were?

A: Absolutely. The only problem I had was the people would sit behind me and start telling me the problems they had on their jobs.


Title: President, Transport Workers Union Local 234.

Home: Southwest Philadelphia.

Diploma: University City High School.

Resume: Started as a SEPTA trolley operator. Rose through union ranks to become president twice, in 2008 and 2013.

Trolley route: No. 36.

For fun: Reading U.S. Supreme Court opinions.

Even more fun: Playing baseball with his grandson.

Trolley talk: "The job is what you make of it. If you go out there and you don't want to be there, you have a long day. I talk to everybody. That's what I do. I enjoy being there."



Name: Transport Workers Union.

Where: Philadelphia.

Members: 5,528.

What they do: 5,000 work for SEPTA as bus drivers, mechanics, cashiers, subway and trolley operators. Union also represents workers at Hyundai-Rotem.

2013 revenues:

$3.25 million, mostly dues.

History: Organized in 1943 for employees of the former Philadelphia Transit Co. EndText


Willie Brown: Union leaders need to develop a thick skin.

Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.