SEPTA contract: Our money, without our input?

A SEPTA transit map is shown outside the Pattison subway station near the Wachovia Spectrum, left, and the Wachovia center, right, Friday, Oct. 30, 2009, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Think back to all the uproar late last year when the Nutter administration announced a billion dollars in cuts, without first seeking public input -- it was so loud, and so vitriolic, that the administration planned a series of in-depth public forums to guide its decision-making process when it was forced to cut another billion in the spring.

Contrast that with the ongoing transit worker contract negotiations. These, too, involve the public's money. And yet not only is public input not being sought by any party, it's not even clear that public opinion is a consideration (beyond the people who run SEPTA not wanting a humiliating disaster in south Philly tonight).

This is a common theme with contract negotiations. Last year, Daily News editorial page editor Sandra Shea wrote a post for It's Our Money about how the city wouldn't share the details of a proposed new health plan for city workers. She explained:

Typically, the standard for sunshine laws – those laws that regulate when meetings must be open—draw the line at employment information, deeming it too sensitive. We’re not interested in compromising the privacy of individual workers, but we don’t understand why this latest health proposal—as well as others in play as these negotiations drag on -- aren’t for public consumption.

Sandra and Ben Waxman subsequently had a face-off about the issue.

We actually do know a good amount about what the sides are asking for in this case. But it's occurred to me, as I follow SEPTA negotiation updates on, that what outcome the public deems reasonable (again, beyond "no trains to the World Series") just isn't a factor. The dynamic is even more extreme than in Philly city worker contract negotiations, because at least in that case, most Philadelphians know who's responsible (the mayor). SEPTA is run by a confusing board. Ben was just commenting yesterday that he was tempted to call in to 610-WIP and explain to them that the mayor doesn't run the Authority.

I'm not sure how this could be changed -- I don't think you could could reasonably run a series of public forums about SEPTA contracts. But I do think it's an interesting aspect of the negotiations happening today.

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