Brandon Colter walked into his Logan home Friday night from his job helping elderly people with disabilities and said to his sister Porsha: “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to transport the elderly and the disabled during the SEPTA strike. Can you help me? I need you to handle the phone.”
Porsha, their sister Caprice, and several of Colter’s friends said yes. Colter, 30, put the word out on Facebook and gassed up his 2004 Lincoln LS. Porsha, 35, started taking calls from all over the city, scheduling the rides.
Beginning early Saturday morning, the compassionate Colters and friends drove dozens of senior citizens to food markets and health-care appointments.
“My brother loves the elderly and the disabled,” Porsha said. “Whenever he sees something he wants to do to help people, he just jumps in. This is all him. It’s all Brandon.”
Colter’s passengers would usually have taken buses, subways, or trolleys but have been stranded because of the strike, which began after midnight on Nov. 1 when nearly 5,000 workers from Transport Workers Union Local 234 walked out.
SEPTA filed a lawsuit Friday, seeking an injunction to end the strike, claiming it endangers the “health, safety, and welfare” of Philadelphians. The agency cited the inability of passengers to get to “critical medical appointments,” and said that some disabled residents could not get to facilities for specialty care. A Common Pleas Court judge denied the request to force striking workers back on the job immediately but will revisit the issue with another hearing Monday, the day before Election Day.
SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said Saturday that negotiations would resume later in the day. Later Saturday, Willie Brown, president of Local 234, sounded a defiant tone.
“I believe in my heart that SEPTA believes it will get an injunction on Monday. So SEPTA management is playing hardball and there will be no agreement before Monday,” Brown said.
Busch said the possibility of getting an injunction Monday to end the strike in time to get voters to the polls Tuesday is not a factor in the transit agency’s negotiating strategy.
“Certainly, we’re not waiting for an injunction,” he said. “The injunction doesn’t have any impact on our desire to continue negotiations and get this done.”
Brown vowed to “fight tooth and nail” on the pension issue, the biggest remaining topic of dispute. SEPTA contributes millions more to the management pension fund than it does to the union employees’ pensions, Brown said. In a statement issued Saturday night addressing that difference, Brown said: “The public needs to understand that we won’t tighten our belts while they raid the cookie jar.”
Francis Kelly, SEPTA’s assistant general manager of government and public affairs, said that when the union sent a counterproposal late Saturday afternoon, “we were disappointed because it’s regressive. It’s gone outside of what we already said was no good.”
“We have to stay within our budget,” Kelly said. “There’s no extra money here. There’s no money coming from the state or the city. We’re still far apart. We’re fully engaged, but we’re disappointed that we’re not inching closer.”
He said he expected negotiations to continue late into Saturday night.
Meanwhile, Colter and his sisters will continue to try to help those left stranded by the strike.
“And if people have a heart and want to help out the cause, I hope they’ll do it,” Porsha said.
‘A vice jar’
Colter said he does good deeds to counteract his not-so-sweet side.
“I do this thing called a vice jar,” he said. “Past couple of months, I’ve been swearing like a sailor and getting angry. Every time I swear, I put one dollar in the vice jar. Every time I get angry at someone and express it: $10 in the vice jar. Since June, I’ve put $564 in the vice jar.”
Every month, Colter said, he empties the vice jar and gives the money to homeless people. “The vice jar is a deterrent,” he said. “I’m usually a very happy-go-lucky person, but we can all work on things. Some people have a swear jar. I’ve got a vice jar.”
He said that giving rides to elderly and disabled people during the SEPTA strike is consistent with his weekly commitment to giving back, which includes volunteer cleanups with neighborhood youth in Olney and helping distribute blankets and canned goods at homeless shelters.
He said that until now, doing good deeds has been a private thing for him much the way it is for Luke Cage, a Harlem-based Marvel Comics hero in a new Netflix series that Colter likes.
But he decided to go public to get the word out about his SEPTA-strike rides. “We call ourselves the City of Brotherly Love,” Colter said. “It’s time to do something to help people.”