About 1,200 members of SEPTA's largest union voted unanimously today to strike as early as the end of this week if no contract is reached with management.
Transport Workers Union Local 234, which represents bus drivers, subway and trolley operators, and mechanics, has been without a contract since early spring.
A potential walkout could come on the eve of the Phillies' three-game home stand for the World Series, that starts Saturday - creating a transportion nightmare for those trying to get to and from the games.
"(Today's vote) let's me know that everyone is on the same page as I am," said Willie Brown, president of Transport Workers Union 234, which represents about 5,000 members. "This will absolutely be the last week we work without a contract, so if we don't reach a new contract by week's end, we will go on strike.
"This is no joke. This is no hoax," Brown said. "It's gonna happen."
Brown said union leadership and SEPTA management are preparing to both check into Center City hotels tomorrow to begin round-the-clock negotiations to avert a strike.
SEPTA spokeman Richard Maloney said management was prepared to continue talking and was confident the two sides could avert a walkout.
"We will go in there tomorrow and focus on the meat and potatos issues, which are wage, pension and healthcare," he said. "There is no reason we cannot get a contract done.
"We've been talking on-and-off with them for months," Maloney said. "We have had serious discussions over the past week and 10 days, and I think we have made a lot of substantive progress.
"I think if we get down to these basic issues in the next few days there will be no reason for a work stoppage," he said.
Management has proposed a zero wage increase for the first two years of a new four-year contract, with 2 percent increases each in the final two years. It also wants to increase contributions to health coverage from 1 percent to 4 percent; and to freeze the level of pension benefits to members.
The union wants a wage increase of 4 percent each year, and an increase in pension contributions from $75 to $100 for every year of service.
"I do believe we can get a deal done," Brown said today after the members voted at the Sheetmetal Workers Union on 1301 S. Columbus Blvd. "Talks have been at a snail's pace since March, but we actually got a lot closer on the issues during meetings last Thursday and Friday. We felt like we are actually negotiating now."
A strike by city and suburban transit unions would mean a suspension of service on all bus, trolley, and subway lines. That last happened in 2005 during a SEPTA strike that lasted seven days.
Regional Rail trains would still operate because their crews are covered by separate contracts.
On the minds of both SEPTA management and union leaders is the potential impact of a walkout next weekend during the Phillies' three-game World Series homestand from Saturday through Monday.
Maloney at SEPTA said each Phillies home game on average generates about 8,000 additional riders.