– Philly transit workers strike

PHILADELPHIA, USA

The Philadelphia transit system’s largest union said that contract negotiations had broken down and its workers are on strike, bringing the city’s bus, subway and trolley operations to a halt before Tuesday morning’s rush hour.

The strike by Transport Workers Union Local 234 will all but cripple a transit system that averages more than 928,0000 trips each weekday. The union represents more than 5,000 drivers, operators and mechanics of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

Willie Brown, the local’s president, said they decided to strike after both sides agreed that they had gone as far as they could go in negotiations. The announcement came just hours after the Phillies beat the Yankees in Game 5 of the World Series, the last game to be played at Citizens Bank Park.

The union had threatened to go on strike during the World Series. But Gov. Ed Rendell over the weekend ordered the union and SEPTA to remain at the bargaining table or risk “significant consequences.”

Brown said the strike was effective as of 3 a.m. Tuesday.

All bus, subway and trolley service in the city, as well as the Frontier Division buses in Bucks, Montgomery, and Chester Counties, will be stilled by a strike. Regional Rail service won’t be interrupted because those crews are covered by separate contracts.

“It’s going to be terribly disruptive,” SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said early Tuesday.

The two sides had postponed a scheduled Sunday night meeting. They met again Monday at Rendell’s regional office in Philadelphia. Maloney said the talks ended after union negotiators walked out at around midnight.

The union membership voted Oct. 25 to authorize a strike. They have been without a contract since March.

Union workers, who earn an average $52,000 a year, are seeking an annual 4 percent wage hike and want to keep the current 1 percent contribution they make toward the cost of their health care coverage.

Maloney said SEPTA was offering an 11.5 percent wage increase over 5 years, with no raise in the first year, and increases in workers’ pensions.

A 2005 SEPTA strike lasted seven days, while a 1998 transit strike lasted for 40 days.

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Information from: Philadelphia Daily News, http://www.philly.com

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