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SEPTA strike continues, Gov. Rendell threatens to pull funds

Union president Willie Brown and Gov. Ed Rendell each spoke to the press today to discuss the failed agreement to end the transit strike. (Akira Suwa / Philly.com Photographer)

The Transit Workers Union Local 234, which works for SEPTA, the Philadelphia area’s mass transit system, went on strike on Tuesday. Today, they rejected another offer, with Union president Willie Brown refusing to put that offer to a vote by all union members.

The strike has shut down all buses, street trolleys and the Broad Street and Market-Frankford subways. This has caused major traffic jams in Center City and overwhelming crowds on SEPTA’s commuter rail lines, which now are carrying commuters to parts of the city normally served by subways, buses and trolleys.

According to Philly.com, Brown said the union’s constitution doesn’t allow its entire membership to vote on a contract that has first been rejected by leadership. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who has been trying to broker a settlement, said the local’s membership must take a vote on the offer by Sunday or he’ll withdraw nearly $7 million in state funds offered to pay bonuses.

“We’re not going to take it to a vote,” Brown told reporters this afternoon. “For the same reason the president of the United States would not bypass Congress and go directly to the people.” He dismissed Rendell’s demand as an effort to divide the union.

Rendell said he will no longer serve as an intermediary in this dispute. “I have a state to run,” he said.

Unions have played a very important role in the history of this country and they still do serve some very noble purposes. But they sometimes don’t know when enough is enough. And it’s hard for government officials, let alone the general public, to have sympathy for them when we’re in the middle of the worst economic downturn in 80 years. The vast majority of Americans would love to have the benefits and job security the TWU claims is no longer sufficient. I certainly wish I did.

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