Philadelphia Transit Workers Strike

November 3

The Philadelphia transit system’s largest union went on strike early Tuesday morning, crippling travel in the city.
The strike by the union, Local 234 of the Transport Workers Union, left commuters walking, hitching rides, catching cabs or biking to work. The impact was lessened somewhat by the fact that public schools in the city were closed for teachers’ conferences.

The strike also complicated efforts by city residents to vote, and the Democratic City Committee asked Judge Lori A. Dumas-Brooks of the Court of Common Pleas to keep the polls open an hour later than usual, until 9 p.m., to accommodate voters who were affected by the lack of public transportation. Judge Dumas-Brooks denied the motion.

The strike was announced a few hours after the Phillies beat the Yankees in Game 5 of the World Series, the last game of the series to be played in Philadelphia.

The action was in defiance of Gov. Edward G. Rendell, who over the weekend had ordered the union and the transit authority, known as Septa, to remain at the bargaining table.

Willie Brown, president of Local 234, said negotiations had stalled because of disagreements over wages and workers’ rights.

Mr. Brown said that the transit authority had consistently been pulling money out of its already underfinanced pension plan and that management was unwilling to negotiate over a right for employees to choose work assignments based on seniority.

Transit workers in Philadelphia are paid an average of $52,000 a year, excluding benefits. They are seeking annual raises of 4 percent and to keep employees’ contributions toward the cost of their health care coverage at 1 percent of pay, Mr. Brown said.

Transit officials denied the accusations about raiding the pension fund, and said their offer — raises totaling 11.5 percent spread over five years with no raise in the first year, coupled with increases in workers’ pensions — was generous.

At a news conference late Monday night, Mr. Rendell called the decision to strike before dawn “irresponsible.”

Mayor Michael A. Nutter added that he was “totally outraged” that the union chose to strike in the middle of the night.

A strike against the transit authority in 2005 lasted seven days, while a 1998 transit strike lasted 40 days.

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