Com­muters tackle evening rush as strike clogs roads

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OBITUARIES - By Me­gan Trimble

PHILADEL­PHIA >> Com­muters jumped on bikes, grabbed cabs and crammed into car­pools as Philadel­phia tran­sit work­ers went on strike Tues­day af­ter the city’s main tran­sit agency and a union rep­re­sent­ing about 4,700 work­ers failed to reach a con­tract agree­ment.

Re­gional rail travel to the sub­urbs was un­ex­pect­edly dis­rupted at the start of the evening rush as some pick­ets blocked ac­cess to those fa­cil­i­ties for work­ers, and a num­ber of trains had to be can­celed. The pick­ets be­gan clear­ing from those fa­cil­i­ties around 5 p.m. af­ter South­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia Trans­porta­tion Au­thor­ity got an in­junc­tion, but the can­ce­la­tions were com­pli­cat­ing an al­ready slow and jam-packed com­mute.

Union spokesman Jamie Hor­witz said the union was work­ing to pro­tect free speech “while still al­low­ing un­fet­tered ac­cess to SEPTA fa­cil­i­ties and pre­vent­ing any form of in­ter­fer­ence.” The walk­out, which be­gan at 12:01 a.m., shut down buses, trol­leys and sub­ways that pro­vide about 900,000 rides a day. As of 5 p.m. no new talks were sched­uled.

“This is some­thing that is bad for ev­ery­body and has to end,” said Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

Alexia Cole­man-Smith split an Uber so she could get to a sta­tion to get a train out to the city’s western sub­urbs. She planned to walk home from the sta­tion to save money.

Bren­dan McQuig­gan used the city’s bike-share ser­vice to pedal to his job from the down­town area to Philadel­phia’s Old City neigh­bor­hood. He usu­ally takes the sub­way.

LaBria Wil­son usu­ally takes a bus to get to the sta­tion where she grabs a train out to the sub­urbs and the prep school she at­tends. But on Tues­day, she got up an hour early, and her mother drove her to the train.

In declar­ing the strike, Trans­port Work­ers Union Lo­cal 234 Pres­i­dent Wil­lie Brown said man­age­ment “re­fused to budge on key is­sues in­clud­ing safety is­sues that would save lives and not cost SEPTA a dime.”

He said the sides re­mained far apart on pen­sion and health care is­sues, as well as noneco­nomic is­sues such as shift sched­ul­ing, break time and other mea­sures that af­fect driver fa­tigue.

SEPTA said it was ready to re­sume bar­gain­ing. If no agree­ment is reached be­fore Elec­tion Day, the agency said it would seek an in­junc­tion to re­store ser­vice on that day “to en­sure that the strike does not pre­vent any vot­ers from get­ting to the polls and ex­er­cis­ing their right to vote.”

It is the ninth strike by city tran­sit work­ers since 1975. The last one, in 2009, lasted six days.

Among those walk­ing the picket line early Tues­day was Frank Brinkman, a 32year SEPTA em­ployee. He said he hoped a deal could be worked out soon.

“I feel bad for them, I re­ally do,” he said of tran­sit rid­ers, “but this af­fects ev­ery­body’s fam­i­lies.

“It’s not an easy de­ci­sion and (SEPTA) say it’s about the tax­pay­ers, but we’re out here and we’re tax­pay­ers, too,” he said.

The city set up a spe­cial bus ser­vice to get its em­ploy­ees to and from work. Uni­ver­si­ties and some busi­nesses also ar­ranged new or ex­panded bus ser­vice for em­ploy­ees.

The strike had a ma­jor im­pact on the Philadel­phia school sys­tem be­cause SEPTA pro­vides rides for nearly 60,000 pub­lic, pri­vate and char­ter school stu­dents. The district said stu­dents wouldn’t be pe­nal­ized for be­ing late.

Demo­cratic District At­tor­ney Seth Wil­liams joined tran­sit work­ers for a pho­to­graph on a picket line, tweet­ing that he was “show­ing some love for the men & women of TWU Lo­cal #234.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mar­ket-Frank­ford line trains re­main idle at a South­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia Trans­porta­tion Au­thor­ity (SEPTA) sta­tion Tues­day in Up­per Darby.

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