Mayor Jim Kenney’s involvement has prompted Transport Workers Union Local 234 to “postpone” a call to action that could have disrupted SEPTA service Thursday.
“No, I’m not satisfied, but again, when the mayor comes in … you can’t just say no,” said TWU Local 234 president Willie Brown.
Brown did not impose a new deadline for SEPTA to meet a list of demands to safeguard against the coronavirus but said he would allow for “a couple days” to find a resolution.
At a news conference earlier Wednesday, he had suggested riders “find an alternate way to work” Thursday morning, and the transportation authority responded by warning of possible “significant service disruptions.”
SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said that the authority was “glad” that it would be able to keep service running for essential employees.
“We want to keep lines of communication open and continue to have a dialogue and we’ll look forward to that in the coming days," Busch said.
A city spokesperson said Kenney appreciated the TWU “hearing his concerns.”
“A walkout would jeopardize many lives right now.... Health-care workers and other essential staff are relying on SEPTA more than ever, and it’s critical that we work together to ensure public transportation is accessible to those who need it,” Kelly Cofrancisco said in a statement Wednesday night.
Brown said during the news conference that his members would not be striking, but threatened to take “action.” He did not elaborate on what they would do. The union represents thousands of SEPTA employees, including drivers and operators.
“Our position is, we have to fight for this,” Brown said. “Not something we want to do, it’s something we’re forced to do, we’re going to have to do.”
Among items listed on its website, Local 234 wants SEPTA to take employees’ temperatures, test air quality on vehicles, and further reduce the number of riders on board at any time. It contends that SEPTA is not complying with guidance outlined by Pennsylvania officials, and seeks greater transparency on which employees have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Brown issued a potential “call to action” in a video posted Monday, outlining that members would take steps if the authority failed to respond.
SEPTA believes it is in compliance with the state’s requirements.
Stephanie Deiger, assistant general manger of labor relations, sent a lengthy letter to Brown on Wednesday that detailed steps the authority has taken to ensure safety of riders and employees, including an effort to begin temperature checks for employees.
“This is the time for us to work together to ensure a stable future for our employees and our riders,” it said.
Brown said the union is planning a response.
The union also is seeking death benefits for the families of employees who have died from the coronavirus, and for their deaths to be classified as work-related injuries. SEPTA has seen four employee deaths from the coronavirus, three of whom were represented by the TWU. More than 190 cases have been confirmed among employees of SEPTA.
At the city’s regular coronavirus news conference Wednesday, Kenney said that his administration was working with SEPTA to “get this resolved in an amicable way."
”We hope that cooler heads will prevail, and the union will get what they’re looking for so that SEPTA can continue serving its citizens," he said.
Kenney afterward spoke with Brown, said Cofrancisco. The city asked the union to refrain from action that could disrupt service, “as it would jeopardize many lives,” she said.