Willie Brown, John Johnson vie to lead TWU

Willie Brown, seeking re-election, as TWU Local 234 head, says he is "running on the contract itself."
Willie Brown, seeking re-election, as TWU Local 234 head, says he is "running on the contract itself."
Posted: September 23, 2010

Last November, he called a transit strike at 3 a.m. on Election Day that took the mayor, the governor and thousands of SEPTA riders by surprise.

He called Mayor Nutter a "Little Caesar" who "brought nothing to the table."

He called himself "the most hated man in Philadelphia."

And tomorrow, tough-talking Willie Brown hopes to call himself the re-elected president of Transport Workers Union Local 234 after 5,100 members of SEPTA's biggest union go to the polls to choose between him and challenger John Johnson Jr.

Johnson slammed Brown for calling the 3 a.m. strike that left thousands of SEPTA riders scrambling for a way to get to work.

"The way in which Willie Brown called the strike was another black eye for the union," Johnson told the Daily News. "I believe he was unprofessional, very emotional and out of control. Our members are still fuming over the fact that they were on strike at 3 o'clock in the morning, and they were the last to know.

"The riding public ended up telling us, 'You are overpaid and you disrupt people's lives.' Willie Brown castrated us as a union when he called that strike."

And now, he said: "This guy is not even running on a platform. My question to Willie Brown is, 'How do you run for office and not have a platform?' "

Brown responded, "We are running on the contract itself," referring to the five-year deal his team negotiated that included SEPTA giving each member a $1,250 "signing bonus," a 2.5 percent wage hike in the contract's second year and a 3 percent raise in each of the final three years.

"We still pay 1 percent for the best health benefits around," Brown said. "Our members are pretty smart. They know that this is the roughest time since the Great Depression and, under those conditions, we got an excellent contract.

"In my opinion, the strongest union in the country is the Fraternal Order of Police," Brown said. "They got a 7 percent wage increase over the life of their contract. We got an 11.5 percent increase in ours."

Normally in a union election, he said, the challenger attacks the contract that the incumbent leadership team negotiated.

"Notice that he's not attacking the contract," Brown said. "So, in order to have a shot at winning, he's got to turn this into a personality contest. The contract itself is my record, and that's what I'm running on."

As for the 3 a.m. strike, Brown said: "We took the bull by the horns. Joe Casey [SEPTA's general manager] made a statement that he wanted new leadership in our union. He wants somebody a lot more passive than me. John Johnson fits the bill there."

Johnson, who has driven out of the Allegheny and the Midvale bus districts and is now a track maintainer, earned a business degree from Temple in 2005, and is pursuing a graduate degree in jurisprudence at Widener University.

Johnson said that his university education gives him the skills to negotiate with SEPTA management.

"He's never done a negotiation," Brown said. "I have a proven record of being a fighter for our members. You might disagree with how I go about it, but the ends justify the means."

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