SEPTA drivers and other transit workers rallied at SEPTA headquarters at 12th & Market Street on Thursday April 26 to demand that SEPTA act to protect its workers.
“We have operators who have been spat on, guns have been pulled on them and, in some cases, and we have operators who are getting shot. A female operator was sexually assaulted,” said John Johnson, Jr., president of Transport Workers Union Local 234. “It’s very common in our world. Unfortunately it doesn’t get the coverage that it should get so we can bring attention to the issue.”
Despite the attacks, members of local 234 feel their fears and concerns may be falling on deaf ears.
“If we don’t do anything else, we have to bring attention to this situation,” said Johnson. “This is not what you signed up for when you signed up to get the job. You didn’t sign up to be a victim.”
The members of the union were not alone, as members of other organized labor unions, elected officials and concerned citizens gathered at the rally.
Sen. Christina Tartaglione was on hand to support union members and demand passage of Senate bill 236, which if ratified, would place transit workers in the same protected class as police and firefighters - and she had strong words for her colleagues in Harrisburg who failed to act on the measure.
“We’re back again on an issue that Harrisburg just doesn’t get,” said Tartaglione “They don’t get the fact that every time you get on the bus, your life is on the line and so are the lives of your passengers.”
Tartaglione told the crowd of supporters that they needed to get together to fight for passage of SB 236. “For the past 8 years I have been trying to do it. The Judiciary Committee says that they don’t even want to bring it up because they [transit workers] shouldn’t be in a protective class,” she said.
“My grandfather drove a bus for more than 30 years,” said Ed Nielson, newly elected state representative of the 169th legislative district. “I look forward to voting on the senator’s bill; hopefully it’s the first vote I cast, a positive vote on 236 in the House.”
Councilman David Oh recalled hearing of an incident in which armed men shot at a SEPTA bus. The attack was captured on camera and posted on You Tube.
“When you’re not safe, the citizens aren’t safe, and if people don’t ride our buses, then our economy grinds to a halt,” said Oh. Oh, who lives in Southwest Philadelphia, said that his wife catches the bus every day. “I’ll be supporting you with the other members of city council.”
“My sister works for SEPTA as a driver, and has been a driver for 15 years,” said Councilwoman Cindy Bass, “ and in that 15 years she has been robbed on the bus, she has been spit on, she has been threatened on the bus, she has been hit on the bus. She’s had passengers overdose on the bus.”