PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) — After not being able to come to a new contract agreement, SEPTA’s 450 regional rail engineers and electricians went on strike Saturday morning, shutting down 13 train lines that carry commuters to the suburbs and Philadelphia International Airport.
The strike began after negotiations between the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and two unions failed to reach a new contract deal.
Subways, trolleys and buses operated by SEPTA will continue to run.
The transit agency said that its offer to keep a previously announced wage increase in effect during an extended two-week cooling off period was rejected by the unions.
“Asking for extension in time, without any movement toward closure is really pointless. It would be an extension for the sake of extension,” said Stephen Bruno, vice president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.
Bruno said that there were no discussions in Friday’s negotiations regarding “the actual issues in dispute.” He said they are seeking raises of at least 14.5 percent over five years — or about 3 percentage points more than SEPTA has offered.
The last regional rail strike, in 1983, lasted more than three months.
Workers, employers and travelers in the Philadelphia area were making contingency plans to deal with the rail strike that could add to the region’s summer transportation woes if it continues into the work week.
The strike will affect hospital, airport and retail workers, although the full effect would not be felt until Monday’s rush hour.
SEPTA trains carry 60,000 passengers in and out of town each weekday. The transit agency says it will add service on the Broad Street, Market-Frankford and Norristown lines, but that will only help during off-peak hours since service is at full capacity during rush hours. SEPTA is urging riders to try to commute after 9 a.m. during the strike. For more on SEPTA’s Regional Rail Service Interruption Plan, click here.
Philadelphia International Airport was trying to help employees and travelers make contingency plans, including bus options and carpools.
“We can’t foresee who needs what assistance, but we certainly have reached out to people,” spokeswoman Victoria Lupica said. “We’re certainly hoping that everything is resolved and there isn’t a strike.”
The labor conflict came to a head this week after SEPTA announced it would impose a deal beginning Sunday. Terms include raising electrical workers’ pay immediately by an average of about $3 per hour; the top wage rate for locomotive engineers would rise by $2.64 per hour.
“We have friends and family that live in this community, we’re from this community, and we did not want this to result in a stoppage of work,” Bruno said.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett requested on Saturday that President Barack Obama intervene in the strike.
“I have requested federal intervention from the President to immediately mediate the ongoing dispute between SEPTA and the Engineers and Electricians Unions,” Corbett said. “It is imperative that parties continue to work toward an agreement for the benefit of the tens of thousands of people who use SEPTA rail every day.”
Obama could appoint an emergency board to intervene in the negotiations and block the strike for up to 240 days.
The strike adds to commuting headaches in the region, where major construction projects are making it more difficult than usual to get around.
The lines carrying PATCO commuter trains between Philadelphia and southern New Jersey are being replaced over the Ben Franklin Bridge, affecting not only the train schedule but also car traffic on the busy bridge (See Previous Story).
Emergency work on a bridge on Interstate 495 in Delaware is expected to keep a stretch of that thoroughfare closed at least through the summer, and is forcing additional traffic onto I-95 (See Previous Story). Additionally, work is scheduled to begin next week on I-95 just north of downtown Philadelphia (See Previous Story).
The commuting difficulties could be reduced a little as summer vacation season ramps up. But that could create problems for another group.
“Along with the effects to commuting, summer travelers also have to adjust their plans,” AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Jenny Robinson.
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