When the Media Gets It Wrong

So I’m driving into work today, listening to NPR, and they’re reporting on the SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority) strike in Philadelphia, PA. Now, I like NPR but I took issue with their reporting this morning.

First, they made it sound like the transit workers (Transport Union Workers, Local 234) walked off the job at midnight last night as if they all of a sudden had this wild urge to go on strike. The fact that the union would have had to (and did) issue a 10-day strike notice in accordance with the National Labor Relations Act rules escaped NPR’s notice. In fact, the workers had met on Sunday, October 25 to authorize the strike and set a date. They were picking up their picket signs on the 27th! And, for the record, the union walked at 3:00 am, not midnight.

Now, grant you, it appeared sudden even to some of the union members. Talks had been taking place but came to a screeching halt the day before. However, the strike vote notice was in place so members should have not been that surprised.

Second, NPR explained that the contract negotiations had broken down over pension and health care benefits, even though the workers were getting an 11% salary increase. Then, the reporter added quietly, “over a 5 year period.” Now, I agree that any salary increase in the current economic climate is not to be sneezed at but 11% over a 5-year period isn’t exactly a whopping benefit. What is that – 2.2% per year? It’s not bad but it’s not earthshattering.

And, as it always is in contract negotiations, it depends on who you ask. philly.news stated:

In the end, it was a difference over wages that sparked the walkout. Earlier Monday, transit officials disclosed that both sides had reached a tentative agreement on health care and were reportedly close on wages.

“Nobody wants to leave something on the table,” U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who had been involved in the negotiations since last week, said during yesterday evening’s break.

But union president Willie Brown, in a telephone interview, painted a different picture early today.

“They wouldn’t provide the proper numbers” during negotiations, Brown said. “When it comes right down to it, they’ve underfunded our pension for years.”

Gov. Rendell said the union chose to walk away from an “excellent” contract offer that includes 11 percent in wage increases over five years, and 11 percent increase in pension contributions, and no increases in workers’ contribution for health care.

“Think about that,” Rendell said. “Whose pension has been increased in this day and age?”

According to TWU officials, SEPTA management has proposed no wage increase for the first two years of a four-year contract and a 2 percent increase in each of the final two years. It also wanted to increase worker contributions to health coverage from 1 percent to 4 percent and freeze the level of pension benefits.

So, you have 11% increase in wages, 11% increase in funding and no changes to health care benefits – management’s statement – versus a 4% increase in wages, freezing the level of pension benefits and raising health care contributions from 1% to 4% – TUW’s side.

It’s not necessary for us to dig deeper into the details of  TUW’s contract negotiations –  we wish the TUW a short strike and a decent settlement for their contract. The point for MNA members who are unionized – there’s a lot of misinformation that happens when someone goes on strike. Right now the media, who by the way were invited to both the strike notice meeting and the picking-up-of-the-picket-signs meeting are busily painting the TUW employees as evil people who deliberately and without any notice went out on strike leaving 450,000 people without public transportation in and around Philadelphia. That is simply not the truth.

We advocate for our patients but in this case – if you happen upon people discussing the TUW strike, help people understand that there are two sides to this story.

Those of you who have been out on informational pickets and/or strikes yourselves know how hard this is. Taking such a drastic step should not make you the victim of false information as well.

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