Philadelphia-area transit workers strike
over new contract
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[June 14, 2014]
By Daniel Kelley
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Transit workers
in the greater Philadelphia area began a strike over proposed new
contracts early on Saturday, after failing in efforts to reach a deal
with the regional transit authority before a midnight deadline,
Unions representing about 400 engineers and electricians who
operate trains that connect the city and its suburbs called for a
walkout at 12:01 a.m., when a mandatory 30-day cooling off period
The strike will not affect the city's subways or buses, though it
could put thousands of cars on the road as residents of small towns
dotting the region are left with little choice but to drive to work.
About 126,000 people use the 13 regional rail lines, which stretch
from the city's northern suburbs to Wilmington, Delaware.
Pension benefits were the main sticking point in the negotiations,
Jerri Williams, a spokeswoman for the Southeastern Pennsylvania
Transportation Authority (SEPTA), told reporters.
Both sides had returned to the bargaining table at 8 p.m. on Friday
under orders from federal mediators.
SEPTA has issued contingency plans that call for more buses on the
road and higher capacity on subways. But they also urged commuters
to seek flexibility at work, because lines are already running at
capacity during rush hours.
The workers have gone without a contract since 2009, but the issue
came to a head this week after SEPTA management said it would impose
a new contract.
The unions have balked at the plan because it was not negotiated and
does not include retroactive pay increases for the years since the
last contract expired.
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The region is already suffering major jams on Interstate-95 after
I-495, which bypasses Wilmington, was closed because support columns
on a bridge had tilted.
Officials have urged commuters to take the regional rail line to
Wilmington to alleviate traffic congestion.
Under federal law, the strike could be delayed if President Barack
Obama appoints a presidential emergency board to mediate the
dispute, which could delay the strike for up to 240 days during
"We feel all it does is to continue the possibility of a strike at
another date," SEPTA's Williams said of the presidential emergency
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Elaine Hardcastle)
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