Friday, November 6, 2009

A Dangerous Precedent

The following is from a guest blogger, Matt Crespi and is an interesting perspective on the transit strike.

With hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians affected by the TWU 234 strike, it’s not hard to find good reasons to be angry. Traffic jams, expensive cab rides, and other delays are irritating; hourly workers struggling to make ends meet being kept from work is heartbreaking; and students from kindergarten through college being kept out of school is appalling.

The disruption to daily life is rightfully getting a lot of attention, but there’s a larger, though less personally urgent, issue raised by the SETPA workers’ surprise strike, and it deserves consideration by both ordinary citizens and our highest ranking elected officials: a crippling transit strike took the city by surprise four hours before the polls opened.

This is no small matter. How many fewer votes were cast because of the strike may never be known, but it’s hard to imagine the number was not substantial. Though some voters rely on SEPTA to get to their polling places, they’re not the only ones were prevented from voting because of the strike. Major disruptions to routines and plans certainly make citizens less likely to vote, and the lack of warning ensured that creating backup plans would be as difficult as possible. Any parents who rely on SEPTA to get the kids to school and themselves to work woke up to two enormous problems, and any intention to vote would have taken a back seat to the immediate concerns of daily life.

Thankfully for the integrity of the election, most of the races were won in landslides, and it seems likely the strike made little difference. Were any of the major races close, the city might have seen apoplectic candidates tossing accusations of election tampering at union leaders, even demanding criminal investigations (perhaps not without cause).

Nine years ago, a few dozen inconvenienced voters here and there in Florida raised suspicions. A few hundred turned into court cases and questions of legitimacy. A transit strike on a busier election day could prevent thousands, even tens of thousands, of voters from getting to the polls. We shouldn’t wait for a transit strike on the eve of a closer election for a more visible office to realize this is a problem; public officials should eliminate that possibility immediately.

The citizenry wouldn’t stand for a strike designed to keep voters from the polls, but how is unintentional election tampering significantly better? And what’s to stop potentially immoral union leaders of the future, in Philadelphia or elsewhere, from orchestrating strikes for hidden political reasons? The current union leaders are already seen by some to be exercising too much power on their union’s behalf.

Police and firefighters aren’t allowed to strike because it would be a threat to public safety. Transit strikes on Election Day, especially surprise strikes, are a threat to democracy itself. Keeping voters from the polls undermines our entire political system, and doing so purposefully on a massive scale should be unconscionable to any American.

Transit strikes on Election Day should be made illegal, and the irresponsible union leaders who orchestrated such a strike this week owe the city a huge apology, if not their resignations.


Jared Solomon said...

If you start limiting the dates on which unions can strike, you severely limit their power. By striking on highly publicized dates, such as elections or world series games, the issues become more public and relevant to society as a whole - giving the Unions the power to affect change.

There are enough restraints on Unions, I don't think we need any more. Besides that, there are constitutional issues as well.

Jamie said...

Jared- what about the greater concern of a citizen's constitutional right to vote? I think that is the biggest concern brought up by this surprise strike by SEPTA. And it should not be so easily dismissed.

Jared Solomon said...

I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that you are making a common mistake. These people still have the right to vote - the government isn't legally required to facilitate this process. Sure, voting will be tricky, but not impossible. From what I understand, the government has to do something active and overt to infringe upon the right to vote.

Remember, we are talking about federal rights, so you have to blame the gov.