November 21, 2023
On Monday, the union representing the engineers that operate SEPTA's Regional Rail commuter service voted to grant its president the authority to call a strike.
The contract for members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, Division 71 expired in March. Last Thursday, BLET's national vice president James P. Louis said wage disparities prompted the vote.
"A newly promoted engineer on SEPTA is paid approximately 58% per hour less than his or her counterparts," Louis said. "It takes engineers 15 years, three to five times longer than any other railroad in the country, to achieve the full rate on SEPTA, which is still approximately 20% lower than other carriers in the Northeast."
The union representing conductors on SEPTA's Regional Rail trains — International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, Transportation Division, Local 61 — also reported that its members voted to authorize a strike.
Union officials say the engineers and conductors have not received raises in four years, and that their wages are the lowest among commuter rail systems nationally.
Louis emphasized a lack of benefits, such as parental leave and pension plans, that are standard at other commuter agencies. He said these discrepancies contribute to SEPTA not being able to hire a full staff of certified engineers and to engineers leaving for better-paying positions elsewhere.
Currently, SEPTA's Regional Rail service has 177 engineers; if fully staffed, it would have 230.
While the votes to authorize a strike are the next step in gaining new labor contracts, they do not immediately trigger a work stoppage. Under the Railroad Labor Act, BLET and SMART-TD must partake in bargaining, mediation and arbitration procedures before striking.
“We will use every lawful tool to reach a contract settlement," Eddie Hall, BLET's national president, said.
"SEPTA continues to work through the federal mediation process on contracts for Regional Rail engineers and conductors," a SEPTA spokesperson wrote in a statement. "We have made a contract offer that would provide raises for employees, consistent with contracts that the majority of our unionized workforce have received. We are committed to negotiating in good faith in an effort to reach an agreement for our engineers and conductors."
The Fraternal Order of Transit Police Lodge 109, which represents SEPTA's transit police at, also authorized a strike. Members of the transit police union want salary raises, citing escalating public safety worries on subways and buses.
SEPTA's 11 other unions are either under contract or have agreed to labor deals, according to John Golden, a spokesperson for the transit authority.