PHILADELPHIA (WTXF/AP) - The votes are in and members of Transport Workers Union Local 234 voted to authorize a strike if they don’t have a deal with the transit agency by Oct. 31.
The vote took place at 11am Sunday at the Sheet Metal Workers Union Hall on Columbus Boulevard in Pennsport. The union represents more than 5,700 workers.
Soon after, SEPTA put out this statement: "The parties continue to bargain to reach a new agreement. While we hope that the union does not exercise its right to strike, we are focusing on reaching a new contract that's in the best interest of our riders, employees and stakeholders."
FOX 29's Sabina Kuriakose reported thousands of workers have been unhappy with their contracts and want better healthcare. Before the vote, they told her they were prepared to go to the picket line.
SEPTA Workers Union Local 234 votes to authorize strike if deal not reached by Oct. 31. @FOX29philly— Sabina Kuriakose (@SabinaKuriakose) October 16, 2016
Nearly 5,700 bus, trolley and train operators may go on strike if they don't reach a new contract deal with SEPTA before Nov. 1. Regional Rail would not be affected by a strike.
The union and SEPTA have been negotiating since July. The current contract expires at midnight on Oct. 31. Any walkout wouldn't begin until after that.
Sticking points include pension reform. Workers want to raise the cap for calculating pensions, from $50,000 to $70,000. Healthcare, safety and fatigue are also issues. Local 234 says many operators don't have time to eat or go to the restroom on the job.
The union and SEPTA avoided a strike just two years ago, but the current contract expires at midnight on Halloween.
Election Day is Nov. 8, so a possible strike could overlap.
SEPTA had downplayed any concern, saying taking a strike vote before a contract expires is not out of the ordinary, and that it is working to come to an agreement with workers.