Judge delays ruling on Philadelphia transit strike
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.