Tran­sit agency pushes strik­ers to work on Elec­tion Day

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

Philadel­phia’s main tran­sit agency asked on Thurs­day for as­sur­ances from the city’s strik­ing tran­sit union that it will sus­pend its walk­out on Elec­tion Day if no con­tract agree­ment is reached by then. With­out that prom­ise, the agency said, it will go to court to try to force tran­sit em­ploy­ees to work on Nov. 8.

The head of the Trans­port Work­ers Union lo­cal called the re­quest “not help­ful” and said the South­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia Trans­porta­tion Au­thor­ity should fo­cus in­stead on reach­ing a set­tle­ment as the strike en­tered its third day.

Demo­cratic city lead­ers are wor­ried that if the city’s buses, trol­leys and sub­ways re­main idle through Elec­tion Day, some vot­ers won’t get to the polls be­cause of hav­ing to spend so much time get­ting to and from work.

Penn­syl­va­nia is a bat­tle­ground state, and the vote in over­whelm­ingly Demo­cratic Philadel­phia is crit­i­cally im­por­tant to Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton as she bat­tles Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump.

SEPTA board Chair­man Pasquale T. Deon Sr. said he wanted TWU lead­ers to “as­sure the ci­ti­zens of the Philadel­phia re­gion that, if nec­es­sary, they will sus­pend their strike for Elec­tion Day.”

“If TWU does not pro­vide that as­sur­ance, SEPTA will seek to en­join this strike,” he said in a state­ment.

Deon sug­gested that the union lacked a sense of ur­gency. TWU lo­cal pres­i­dent Wil­lie Brown re­jected that claim.

“Also not help­ful is ask­ing us to sus­pend the strike for Elec­tion Day,” he said. “Rather than talk­ing about next week, SEPTA and its board chair­man should stop their games and work with us to get a set­tle­ment now.”

When the union voted to au­tho­rize its strike, it also voted to not ex­tend or sus­pend the strike dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions.

The union’s 4,700 work­ers walked off the job af­ter mid­night Mon­day, shut­ting down tran­sit ser­vice that pro­vides about 900,000 rides a day. Pen­sions, work rules and health care costs are among the is­sues on the bar­gain­ing table.

SEPTA said it has agreed to raise av­er­age an­nual earnings from about $68,000 now to $75,000 in the fifth year of the con­tract and to lift a cap on pen­sion ben­e­fits. But it wants to raise em­ployee con­tri­bu­tions to a pre­mium health care plan from an av­er­age of $10 a week now to about $40 a week in the con­tract’s fi­nal year, still far be­low the re­gional av­er­age. The union said SEPTA is balk­ing at no-cost re­forms like giv­ing em­ploy­ees more time to rest and go to the bath­room.

The walk­out is the ninth since 1975 by the city tran­sit union. The last one, in 2009, lasted six days.

The re­sult has been traf­fic grid­lock at morn­ing and evening rush hours; jammed and de­layed re­gional rail ser­vice, which is still op­er­at­ing; and higher ab­sen­teeism at the city’s high schools, which de­pend on SEPTA to trans­port many stu­dents. High school at­ten­dance was just over 60 per­cent Tues­day, the first day of the strike, down from nearly 87 per­cent the day be­fore.

Demo­cratic U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who has been work­ing to help end the im­passe, said Thurs­day he be­lieved the strike would be over by Elec­tion Day.

“We’re gonna get it done,” said Brady, of Philadel­phia.

He said Clin­ton needs at least 460,000 votes in Philadel­phia to off­set Repub­li­can sup­port in other parts of the state. He said ear­lier in the week he be­lieved it was pos­si­ble even if city tran­sit re­mains shut down.

Demo­crat Ed Ren­dell, the city’s for­mer mayor, state’s for­mer gov­er­nor and host com­mit­tee chair­man of this past sum­mer’s Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion, sounded less con­fi­dent. He told radio sta­tion WPHT ear­lier in the week that if the strike lasts through Elec­tion Day it will hold down turnout.

“It’s a real prob­lem and a real plus for Don­ald Trump,” he said.

Mo­torists also were grow­ing in­creas­ingly frus­trated.

Kathy Miller, a com­muter, said the drive from her Delaware home has, at times, taken her nearly five times longer than usual.

“This has got to end soon,” Miller said. “Peo­ple who don’t have the priv­i­lege of ac­cept­ing bosses or flex­time could feel a lot of pres­sure right now.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A pedes­trian passes a locked rail sta­tion in west Philadel­phia on Tues­day.

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