Officials: SEPTA strike over
The strike by SEPTA workers that had paralyzed much of the region was on the way to being early this morning as both sides were preparing to sign an agreement.
Buses, subways and trolleys, idled since 3 a.m. Tuesday, should be running in time for this morning’s rush, SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said late last night.
The six-day walkout was to end in dramatic fashion, as Transport Workers Union Local 234 leaders joined SEPTA officials shortly before midnight at the Center City office of Gov. Rendell, who brokered the deal a day after he said was giving up on efforts to settle the strike.
Rendell had threatened to withdraw nearly $7 million in state funds to pay for bonuses of $1250 per worker.
By signing the pact, the TWU preserved the bonuses.
The five-year contract also calls for a 2.5 percent raise in the second year, and a 3 percent raise in each of the final three years. It increases workers’ contributions to the pension fund from the current 2 percent to 3 percent and increased the maximum pension to $30,000 a year from the current $27,000 a year.
The strike was to end just like it started: in the middle of the night with much of the city unaware of what would await them in the morning.
Earlier yesterday, officials on both sides had made it clear that no new talks had been scheduled and that commuting this morning would be much like that of last week: with the nearly 1 million riders who use SEPTA’s City and Frontier Divisions buses and trolleys and the Broad Street Line and Market-Frankford El every weekday having to find alternatives.
The strike’s impact was minimal yesterday, largely a day of leisure, with people taking advantage of balmy weather to hoof it to their destinations. Some churches set up car pools to get members to services.
Otherwise, the city seemed to take a breather from the angst. Not even a planned demonstration against Local 234 outside SEPTA headquarters on Market Street came off.
The strike, which began at 3 a.m. Tuesday, appeared to have been settled late Friday night, when Rendell and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.) announced that a tentative agreement had been reached with the union.
On Saturday, however, Local 234 leadership rejected a contract offer that the governor and the mayor considered generous, given the current economic climate. Negotiators have not been back at the bargaining table since, and no new sessions have been scheduled.
Rendell and Mayor Nutter were angered that the union and SEPTA had reached what the governor called a handshake agreement – and the union balked.
It was unclear early this morning whether any informal talks had been going on over the weekend, or what other changes were made to Friday’s tentative agreement.
Yesterday afternoon, union spokesman Jamie Horwitz said: “The governor was correct. There was essentially a handshake agreement on some of the big issues related to salary and pension funding.
“But the devil is in the details. And when the contract was sent over [Saturday], it included a couple things that were difficult for the union,” Horwitz said.
Earlier, Maloney, the SEPTA spokesman, had said yesterday that the agency remained ready and available to return to the bargaining table.
“We offered them packages” several times this week, Maloney said. “And it just hasn’t been acceptable.”
In the meantime, he said, “what am I doing? I’m raking leaves.”
Yesterday at Zion Baptist Church at Broad and Venango Streets in North Philadelphia, congregants streamed in for the 10:45 a.m. service.
Cars pulled up outside to drop off the elderly and infirm, and the no-parking zone along Broad Street was filling up.
Pastor Gus Roman said attendance at church activities all week, as well as at the earlier service yesterday morning, had been down, although he wasn’t sure by how much.
But he was concerned about much more than attendance.
“It’s the community health and welfare,” he said.
“All during the week, you look at Erie and Broad, which is a hub for a lot of traffic . . . and you see the barrenness of it,” he said. “It’s frightening to see that. And the impact of that on business.”
People couldn’t get to hospitals or services they needed, he said.
“One of the things this is teaching us is that we’re going to have to look at the impact of SEPTA on the church and on these institutions,” he said.
He said he had concluded that the city’s religious community should be involved.
“It’s an eye-opener,” he said. “It’s in our mission statement that we are a service organization. But not until now did we give any thought to the role that the church should play” at the bargaining table.
“The way it is now, we’re just bystanders, just looking,” Roman said. “We need to mount an effort – churches – to do what we need to to, and that is to be a voice to the negotiations.”
On Market Street, a bellhop at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel said pedestrian traffic was about the same as usual. Most hotel guests, he said, tend to take taxis instead of public transportation.
A few doors west, a protest against the union had been planned for 1 p.m. But by then, the only person other than SEPTA security officers and members of the media was Tili Ayala, who hadn’t known about the demonstration and simply went on her own from Frankford, “as a Mormon activist.”
She held a sign that read, “Talk is cheap. Get service back on street!!”
She said she could no longer work as a community advocate visiting patients at nursing homes because she couldn’t get to them.
“I’m here representing me, a rider,” she said.