Nutter, FOX News, and the SEPTA Strike

The mainstream press across Philadelphia is turning commuters against transit workers. Instead of practicing journalism and explaining to the public why transit workers have gone on strike, they have instead given a platform to one side of the contract negotiations and helped the Mayor pit working people across the city against the drivers and engineers who get us to work everyday.

Take this Fox News piece aired 12 hours after the strike began. Here is 5 and a half minutes dedicated to Nutter, with FOX acting as his mouthpiece. The anchors take every word from Nutter as fact without question. We are given no perspective or background from the union or the workers. The most we see of the SEPTA drivers is a few seconds of random clips. Not once do we hear a single voice from the other side.

In fact, just look at the words that are used throughout the segment by Nutter. "It was quite a despicable act, quite frankly. This was an ambush on the citizens of this city and the riding public." What is Nutter trying to imply? An ambush? The SEPTA workers have been without a contract for over six months, since March. The strike was a last resort. This so-called ambush is simply a result of Nutter's inability to secure a decent contract for the workers.

Nutter goes on to say that the strike has "been disruptive, it is inappropriate." The strike certainly is disruptive, but Nutter should be the one apologizing. Look at the crises from throughout the year. The budget that went unresolved for nearly a year, the pool closings through the summer, the threatened and actual library closures, the teachers contracts, the city workers contracts, and the fire and police contracts all still unresolved. What is disruptive is this way of running government.

One of the more subtle moves that Nutter tries to pull off is identifying with working people, as if everyone is sacrificing equally. But he isn't. Talking about how transit workers should "just be happy to have a job" turns this into an argument between people making $20,000 a year and people making $50,000 a year. Yet, even after his much-touted pay cut, Nutter still takes $167,000 a year for being mayor, not considering investments and assets. The top earner in the city, David L. Cohen the VP of Comcast took home $22,000,000 last year, up two percent from the year before. He made enough to settle the difference in the contract negotiations. Not everyone is sacrificing equally. Instead those making a little are told 'no one should ask for anything in these trying times' as if they were taking from those making even less.

Such a string of crises calls into question where Nutters' attention and priorities lie. When he claims that he has "no idea why these contracts were rejected," it's clear that he's both deceptive and deaf to people's concerns. Willie Brown, the union president representing the transit workers, spoke on the subject today. The issue is not pay - it's pensions. The transit workers are striking to ensure that the pensions they have now are around for the next generation of SEPTA drivers and engineers.

Nutter takes it upon himself to speak for all the people across the city. "People have lost their jobs, they've lost their pensions, they've lost their healthcare, and most are just happy to have a job." This is a clear case of Nutter trying to turn the working commuters and the unemployed against the drivers and engineers of SEPTA, as if it's the workers' fault that the economy is where it is. Slashing good contracts and forcing workers to negotiate away their benefits is a political decision that worsens the financial crisis, not improves it.

FOX News is not at all blameless here, either. While Nutter's language leaves much to be desired, the anchors offered no investigation whatsoever, instead preferring to nod along with Nutter's attack on the transit workers. When Nutter says that this contract is a great contract, why don't the anchors ask Nutter to explain? Nutter throws out a bunch of numbers without explanation, claiming the deal was "the best around," saying that "there's no offer like that anywhere around." What's the basis? Where's the comparison? Where's the history? Where is the journalism?

The way much mainstream media approaches these topics does not provide the public with the information that we need. It is a perspective that simply rephrases the desires of the decision-makers. Without dissent, there is no attempt to truly understand and criticize the information given. As we have seen, this leads to soapboxes and non-stories. Over the coming days of this coverage, we need journalism which talks to the people on strike, explains the background of the issue, and questions the opinions of public officials.

Lily, Sean, and Bryan
Reposted from

Does anyone have

Does anyone have documentation of this $52,000 a year *average*. The numbers from the prior thread on this issue suggest that's more likely the top end salary.

Maybe there's overtime. Maybe it's skewed as can easily happen with averages. Will the TWU ever get its PR act in gear?!?

If SEPTA management had been properly funding the pension during the 'good time years' none of this would be happening.

Maybe he was ticked at being called "Little Ceasar"

Does not seem like any of them - Brown, Rendell, or Nutter are phrasing their statements to the press in the most politic or strategic way to bring about a quick resolution.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

No, he's more mature than that

The interview was on Tuesday; he was called "Little Caesar" on Wednesday.

That's pretty funny

Name calling aside,
Willie Brown is right. Nutter has no business there. Rendell does as he's showed up with a check before and that counts for something.
And if these are the sort of statements he's going to make then the whole city would be better off if he just shut up about it.

This Too Will Pass, for the guts in your cerebrum.

Defending Nutter

Nutter is not dealing with unlimited funds. He has to face the hard reality of the economic crises. The City of Philadelphia hasn't got the power to print money, and can't produce endless deficits like the Federal government. This is reality. What were the alternatives to the doomsday budget? Borrow money from China? Let's get real.

Nutter's point is valid. Where is the TWU's solidarity with other workers in the city? TWU could have gone on strike at any time they please, so why didn't they give the public at least 24 hours advance notice?

No, we shouldn't pit those making 20k against those making 50k, (we should hope they might unite in organizing against the practice of those making $22 million), but SEPTA is not a regular business, it is the lifeline of the city, and hundreds of thousands of people are reliant on it. If the TWU management really cared about workers other than their own, they would have given advanced notice. Nutter is right to be angered at this.

The pension issue is very valid, but it is a long term issue that wasn't facing imminent crises. TWU could have punted this until after the economic crises was over and the city and state treasuries were better funded; perhaps agreeing to a one year contract to wait out the recovery, and then hard-balling once the treasuries were filling back up.

Finally, what indication do you have that all of the TWU workers are on board with this strike? The strike was an upper level decision. If we have unwise individuals running SEPTA management, and unwise individuals running TWU management, I'm not going to support TWU management's decision just because they represent the workers and workers=good.

With that said, I couldn't agree with you more about the failure of journalism in general.

Not sure i agree

As a commuter I agree that a 24 hour notice would have been helpful, but look, a strike's a strike. It will make people angry whether they get 24 hours notice or a week's notice. I lived through the 90s strike when I was commuting to Olney - and I'll tell you that it stunk on Day 40 as much as it did on Day 1. TWU put up a strike deadline before and took a pass for the Series. They've been without a contract for months. There's never a good time for TWU to go on strike, and there never will be.

Which is why I think any commentary about solidarity with other unions rings absolutely hollow. However you feel about the specifics of the situation, there's no doubt the Mayor and plenty of others are looking at TWU and the line that "be grateful you have a job" as the baseline for future negotiations with all the city unions. This is a deeper question about quality jobs and job growth in the city and how government is going to use the economic crisis in some ways to strengthen and protect their own workers in tough economic times, or whether they'll manipulate the economic crisis in ways which continue to undermine and undercut job security for working people. And the pension fund issue in my opinion falls into the latter.

I'm not a union = good acolyte but in terms of PR I personally find the lines from the other side of TWU to be more troubling.



Hey Philly Dude...
You are correct that Nutter doesn't have unlimited funds! So why is he even there? He has absolutely nothing to offer but stirring trouble and maybe even causing problems! As for solidarity with other "city" workers, where have you been the last 6 months when the TWU contract expired last March 15th? Six months of a strike threat is not enough time? No notice?! You are starting to sound like the Nut(ter ) Maybe related? LOL! Please! No one cares until it happens!
Where do you get your info from? For the life of me I can't understand how people continue to go public and state facts without a clue of what they are talking about! Did you know that SEPTA is a NON Profit company that just runs the TRANSIT System for the city of Philadelphia? So who are we REALLY dealing with here? LOL!
Just like the workers and first line managers are "SEPTA" ( the face of SEPTA )
SEPTA is the face of the City Transit system. They don't own it! They work for the City!
Again, where ever you get your info from..( fox news? ) stop passing it as facts. Make you look stupid!
The union did secure a "One Year" contract not long ago to advert this same action. ( Bet you didn't know that did you? )
SEPTA has to agree to accept another one year contract...They want a 5 year contract. Period. So does the workers, so these things will not happen as often. Sticking point being, with such a long contract, each are going to be very careful in what is agreed upon!

As for the TWU members being on board with this strike, It's the TWU members that authorize this strike finally, after waiting 6 months!
Stop asking questions then answering them yourself as facts.

Nutter's there

because its his job to be cheerleader number one for the city and a strike he was not expecting slows down the city. We elect mayor precisely to get involved whenever possible when something disrupts the flow of commerce and people getting to jobs and school - as the strike most certainly does.

Its what the mayor is elected to do. It's either silly or naive to imagine any mayor (not just this one) would not want to get involved in the process because it disrupts so many other lives and negatively impacts the city's economy and ultimately tax revenue. In terms of comments about unemployment, its probably a worthy context to remember that the guy just spent 4 months lobbying his ass off in Harrisburg to avoid mass layoffs in city departments. SEPTA might indeed be fat with stimulus money (though from what I understand that's all capital improvement money) but the city most definitely is not.

Also SEPTA workers work for SEPTA which is a state-controlled agency by a board that gives equal input to all the counties and therefore not enough weight proportionally to the city where the vast majority of riders live. SEPTA workers don't work for the city. SEPTA rents the tracks from the city actually, for example. Noteworthy because SEPTA has used its state agency status to argue that city non-discrimination laws don't apply to them, actually - as the whole bruhaha over transgender folks getting mistreated over gender stickers on passes underlines.

The average profile of a SEPTA board member is white, wealthy, politically connected, Republican and living far from an area served by dense mass transit service. Very different from the average profile of a SEPTA rider. That may indeed be part of the problem here.

MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Rendell on Brown's "Little Caesar" comment
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.



That is "mostly" correct Sean.
I do work for SEPTA the last 20 years and not the city. Indeed the mayor must get involved....His job too...But not to disrupt! I do beleive there are two septa board members that actually live in the city. Willing to bet none of them uses the system...ever! LOL!
10% of that stimulus money was approved for other than capital improvements and must be used completely or will lose in a certain time period. Not to mention SEPTA now actually has dedicated funding.
As for the mayor of Philadelphia, that was his job to lobby. If he didn't do that, he wouldn't have been doing anything! Yet, none of those contracts are date!
Again, SEPTA is a non profit company that runs the transit system for the city of Philadelphia. So where is all the money besides stimulus captial projects going? Without that money, those projects would have still gotten done! All money SEPTA receives and takes in "Must" be spent, above and beyond, in order to "Justisfy" needing dedicated funding!

Probably you make a better case

in terms of public perception arguing that pension security helps make SEPTA better able to serve the public rather than putting it in a way that comes off as something like "the Feds gave them all this money so we have to make sure we get our share". That stimulus money is supposed to expand our city's economic competitivenes and create new jobs. Its supposed to make our economy greener, help the country as a whole reduce carbon emissions. That money is for expanded, improved service, maybe to allow for hiring more TWU workers to give better service but not just give the existing ones more spending money.

Stimulus money is supposed to do something to fight unemployment, build the wider economy - its not just a "goody box" to take from. Statements that sound like that just anger a lot of people for good reason. Its not SEPTA's money or your money, it's American taxpayer's money and its supposed to buy something for them. Actually its American taxpayer's money borrowed with interest from future generations to get the maximum impact of putting the unemployed back to work to be real specific.

But you can make a case that pension underfunding in the good years left the whole system more vulnerable and you are fixing a broken piece in terms of getting the whole agency on firmer grounding.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.



Correct again Sean...."Mostly!" LOL!

Check again....There was 10% of that stimulus money provided for "Exactly" current economic employee situations.
Check it out!

Despite the snide tone

you are factually incorrect. Its true that part of the stimulus goes to stopping states facing revenue shortfalls from being forced to layoff existing workers but thats not the same thing as Federal stimulus money just to give existing workers bigger take home pay. So yes stimulus money is supposed to help stop layoffs but this wasn't about layoffs or cuts to service was it?

So you are wrong - in your jolly parlance - period. "Check it out".

You make a stronger case arguing that some of the sticking points are essential to health of the system than continuing to claim that Federal stimulus is better spent by you making sure you get a better sized slice of it in raises than it is spent putting the unemployed back to work. Sticking to that track does not win you anything but public scorn. I'm not sure why you would even want to stick to this point. Especially with an agreement supposedly in the works.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Hopefully SEPTA money won't be going into this

Hopefully that money won't be going into SEPTA fulfilling the DRPA's desire for a $500 million "casino to casino trolley line":

The waterfront line would operate on tracks in the middle of Columbus Boulevard from Pier 70 at the south end to Girard Avenue at the north. The route would provide service between the two casinos planned for the waterfront, Foxwoods in the south and SugarHouse in the north.

Too bad U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz messed up all the excitement by pointing out her dissatisfaction with the idea:

U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.), who also attended yesterday's briefing, said she was concerned that the light rail lines provide a seamless link with existing transit lines and not duplicate existing service.

"It may be a better use of public dollars to spend the money to link light rail along the waterfront with the Market-Frankford line, at either Second Street or Fourth Street," Schwartz said. "This cannot be solely a casino-to-casino line along Delaware Avenue. It has to help people who live here and work here."

Schwartz is right

increased transit along the waterfront is and can be a very good idea for serving all of Philadelphia, for a model of redevelopment along the river that ties it back into the rest of the city and preserves public access to river as a goal. Federal dollars are well invested if thats the overall goal. But light rail that does not integrate with the rest of the system, and only serves as a casino to casino shuttle is nothing but a corporate subsidy for corporate casino operators.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

I swear I'm not anti-union

and I'm sure I will be accused of it over and over again, but the TWU has its head up its ass with regards to PR. Nutter and Rendell are the only parties who have made coherent statements to the media. TWU has only caused confusion by telling its workers, the media, and (according to Rendell) the other side of the negotiating table nebulous and inconsistent things. (I have been following the Philly Traction mailing list, which contains many current and former SEPTA employees, and the meager stuff on there is different than everything in the mainstream media.) SEPTA itself is not any better information wise, but at least has remained silent rather than contradictory, and used credible and articulate proxies to get their points across.

The TWU needs to clearly and objectively state its case and goals if it wants to retain any semblance of public support. I know that support is unconditional for many of the readers and writers here (and that is ok, you are entitled to it) but most of the city is pretty pissed off. SEPTA needs to be more forthcoming, too, but is content to let the TWU dig its own grave, which they are doing a pretty good job of.

By the way, at the YIP future of media panel last week, someone mentioned how the Inky used to have a dedicated SEPTA journalist. Now there is one journalist covering transportation in general.


This is a headline and a quote from an Inquirer article on the strike. Amazing:

Another infuriating day for commuters

"The union is a monopoly," he said. "And people hate monopolies. One hundred years ago, corporations were the wolves. Now unions are the wolves."

All I can say is that even if most of the city is mad at the union, they're wrong to be.

Maybe it's because all of the facts aren't being reported. Maybe it's because wages and benefits for most jobs have been on the decline in the wake of a loss in union density, and that's caused bitterness. Maybe it's because of a bad feelings for drivers by riders. Maybe it's because they're racist. Maybe it's because they don't understand how the economy works. Maybe it's because real polling or scientific counting of people who are mad at the union vs. those in solidarity has not been done.

Whatever the reason, there should not be anger at the union.

For the majority of people in this city who don't earn $50,000 a year, there should not be be anger for the fact that 5,100 SEPTA employees have organized for their own empowerment.

Nope there should not be anger; there should be a plan for appreciation, and imitation. If there were more strikes and more displays of people power--like TWU's--especially for economic justice, this would be a truly world-class city.

Get on the bus!

Would you people stop with the $50,000 a year thing. PLEASE! That's the top end.

Thanks to Atrios, here's a job listing for SEPTA bus driver:

Wages start from $12.75/hr to $14.12/hr., depending on assigned location. All starting wages increase annually by 10% for the first four years. After four years, the top hourly rate ranges from $21.26/hr. to $23.53/hr., depending on location.

Starting salary is less than $30,000--as low as $26,500. After four years, it's less than $43,000, going as low as $38,800 (again, based on 40 hours/wk; not sure how overtime works in the system).

And the wording of that offer doesn't necissarily mean drivers earn the top salary after 4 years. It's ambiguous.

And salary has little to nothing to do with the strike. The union says the management has not made is agreed upon pension contributions in years. They are right to be concerned with the stabilty and solvency of their pension plan.

Years of local, state and federal underfunding of transit--as a way to fund tax abatements, and wage tax cuts, and business tax incentives and estate tax reductions, and capital gains cuts, and war, and on and on, perhaps?--left little wiggle room in SEPTA's budget.

Well, guess what? Ridership is--or at least was--up in prior years, although it may have flattened out this year ( Money is flowing to SEPTA from stimulus packages. So even while the economy in general is a major concern, things at SEPTA should be better, not worse, right now.

SEPTA management needs to live up to their agreed upon pension contributions. And in general I have a poor image of SEPTA management. The fare system is a joke: tokens are an early 20th century technology; NYC has had its Metrocard system for 15 years, and DC has been using a card system for much longer than that. The transfer system is punative and discourages rather than encourages system use. And amazingly there are no token machines between 2nd St and FTC on the El (

I wish we could stop quoting

I wish we could stop quoting the $52k figure, but it the only number floating around in the media. If it's not right, the TWU should dispute it. And since, they aren't I think it's correct. If you factor in benefits (usually about 25% of salary), which are quite good for the workers, the $52k figure looks to be about right.

Salary no longer has anything to do with the strike because their needs were generously met. If SEPTA tried to cut salary increases to improve pension funding, they would again become an issue for the TWU. The management issues you cite are capital funding issues. SEPTA finally got steady cash for capital (but that is all in doubt unless the I-80 toll gets passed), and this is the union's reason for asking for money money. Those improvements are going to be in jeopardy if SEPTA needs to move these funds into the operating budget. Either that or a fare increase.

I'm highly skeptical of the

I'm highly skeptical of the salary plus benefits formulation. It might be accurate in its value, but I don't recall a total compensation number being used in other such situations, unless clearly stated as such. Is that the case here? If so, the placard Fox ran is highly misleading, IMO.

Tricks along these lines were played during the whole Detroit crisis, with benefits and pension costs for retirees being lumped into a general expense that made it look like the current workers take home much more than their gross salaries.

One caveat I keep stressing is regarding overtime. I have no idea how much--if any--consistant overtime exists throughout the system. That could certainly account for higher gross pay, but it would also mean that the employees are working extra for it.

I certainly understand that the stimulus monies are designated for long-term capital expenditures. My point in mentioning them is that in prior years, SEPTA may have been compelled to delay their pension contributions in order to cover both capital and operating expenses due to budgetary shortfalls. That should not be the case with stimulus money flowing in to underwrite the capital expenditures.

this sort of call for worker solidarity between workers in

private sector jobs and workers at septa ( or any govt job) is not a good idea in my opinion ,due to the fact that this is a zero sum game. any additional funding to the underfunded pension plan comes from the pockets of workers in private sector jobs without access to such a pension.the reason the pension fund is underfunded is because stocks are at the same level they were 11 years ago and bonds are paying 3%. to be fully funded the pension fund had to grow at about 7-8 % per year. why is that my and other private sector workers fault? if the pension fund is only going to grow at 3%, the amt of extra money needed to fund 25k a year pensions is astronomical. if the state is supposed to kick in the difference , ineffect you are taking a dollar from a cashier at wawa and then saying to a septa employee " we'll take that dollar and invest it for you and hopefully it'll compond at 8% , but if if it doesn't ,no problem ,we'll just take another couple of dollars from the wawa cashier or the bank security guard to make up the difference" . i'm incensed that i'm expected to make up any shortfall when septa workers contribute so little to their pension. when bonds are paying only 3% you would need about 300-400 k set aside per retiree to fund a 25 k a year pension for an av of 20 years per retiree. an av septa worker contribution when invested would come to about 40 k over a 25 year working basically for every one dollar contribeted by a septa worker they want 10 private sector workers to contribute a dollar each to fund one septa workers pension . i realise this is a totally moral or theoretical or hypothetical argument because this situation will never happen ,but what is morally wrong with giving septa workers a dollar for every dollar they contribute themselves ,giving the money to the union and saying " take this pile of money,invest it yourself,the results are on you."



Who controls main stream media?? LOL

what's most infuriating that not even 3 years ago, the newspaper guild was ready to walk for...wait for it.. wait for it...

The company and the Guild have clashed over management's proposal to freeze and take over the pension, cut sick pay benefits and disregard seniority when it comes to layoffs.

So apparently, pensions matter when you're a reporter. And according to editor and publisher, that can be quite A TASTY SALARY:

According to the Guild account, the news agreement called for Smith to write a minimum of 75 columns a year for an annual salary of $125,000. At the end of one year, in February of 2006, Smith would have the option of resigning, of extending the agreement, or of returning as a full-time columnist, at a salary of $190,000.

SEPTA is not proposing to

SEPTA is not proposing to eliminate the pensions, just to (continue) delay funding it properly. The TWU has a right to be concerned about that, but they are not in danger of losing it.

Stephen Smith is an A-list sportswriter so it is not surprising that he is well compensated.

So what is your point?

Hypocrisy Unbounded

The hypocrisy of Governor Rendell, Mayor Nutter and the corporate media is a marvel to behold!

The state of Pennsylvania went without a budget for four months. State workers were unpaid for almost a month, social services agencies were decimated; many closing permanently; and schools and libraries were forced to operate on loans to remain operational. All because the Republican and Democratic state legislators could not agree about how they should take a pound of flesh from the workers of Pennsylvania to revolve the financial crisis created by these same politicians in their support of the corporate and financial elite.

In Philadelphia, the city workers have been working without a contract since July 1st. The main area of dispute is the same as for the SEPTA workers, years of under funding and outright looting of city workers pensions by Mayor Nutter and his predecessors for funds to cover budget deficits. Teachers have been without a contract since August 31st.

True to form, the corporate media attack SEPTA workers for defending their pension funds. The state budget crisis was met with and hand wringing. The strike by SEPTA workers is met with hysterical cries of outrage saying SEPTA workers should be grateful to have a job and take whatever management offers.

A strike is a hardship for anyone, especially the strikers. The SEPTA workers should be supported because in the long run everyone benefits when workers are not forced to pay for the financial and business communities mismanagement of the economy.

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