Judge de­lays rul­ing on Philadel­phia tran­sit strike

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

PHILADEL­PHIA >> The city’s tran­sit agency went to court on Fri­day to force strik­ing work­ers back on the job, say­ing their walk­out threat­ens the pub­lic’s health, safety and right to vote in Tues­day’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Tran­sit union of­fi­cials vowed to fight “tooth and nail” against man­age­ment’s effort to end the four-day strike, and a judge who presided over an emer­gency hear­ing on the in­junc­tion re­quest made no im­me­di­ate rul­ing.

“There’s not enough ev­i­dence that an in­junc­tion right now is nec­es­sary,” said Judge Linda Car­pen­ter, who planned to take ad­di­tional tes­ti­mony on Mon­day.

The South­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia Trans­porta­tion Author­ity ar­gued for an im­me­di­ate end to the strike, which has com­muters stuck on clogged roads, jump­ing on bikes and or­ga­niz­ing car­pools around the city while more than 50,000 chil­dren had to find other ways to get to school.

“We’re not go­ing to lay down, while we can’t re­solve this strike, and just watch our pas­sen­gers suf­fer,” SEPTA gen­eral coun­sel Gino Benedetti said. “We’re not go­ing to do it. It’s too im­por­tant for peo­ple who can’t get other rides, who can’t af­ford the Ubers and the Lyfts and have to get to med­i­cal ap­point­ments.”

Benedetti said SEPTA hopes to re­solve the strike over the week­end.

The Trans­port Work­ers Union urged the judge to hold off on end­ing the strike, say­ing it wants to ham­mer out an agree­ment through con­tin­ued ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“We rec­og­nize that strikes cause peo­ple to en­dure con­di­tions that frankly they would rather not en­dure, and the union would rather not they en­dure, but that is not a ba­sis un­der Penn­syl­va­nia law to grant an in­junc­tion,” union at­tor­ney Nan Lassen said.

The state Supreme Court pre­vi­ously has up­held in­junc­tions to end tran­sit strikes over the pub­lic’s health and safety, es­pe­cially when it comes to the abil­ity of po­lice, fire and am­bu­lance crews to get around.

SEPTA ar­gued that the el­derly, dis­abled and ill are in dan­ger of los­ing ac­cess to needed ser­vices. It also ar­gued the strike would make it dif­fi­cult for peo­ple who vote be­fore or af­ter work given the added com­mut­ing times the strike has caused.

On Thurs­day, the author­ity asked for as­sur­ances from the union that it would sus­pend its walk­out on Elec­tion Day if no con­tract agree­ment is reached by then. 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.

Union at­tor­ney Ralph Teti said he doesn’t think the strike would cause an is­sue on Elec­tion Day, sug­gest­ing the cam­paigns are up to the task of get­ting sup­port­ers to the polls.

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.

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

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