President Obama intervenes to end Philadelphia transit strike

PHILADELPHIA Sat Jun 14, 2014 7:58pm EDT

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett speaks at a news conference on the Penn State campus in State College, Pennsylvania January 2, 2013.  REUTERS/Craig Houtz

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett speaks at a news conference on the Penn State campus in State College, Pennsylvania January 2, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Craig Houtz

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PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Saturday intervened to end a transit strike in the greater Philadelphia area, establishing an emergency board to force the two sides to negotiate.

The move, at the behest of Republican Governor Tom Corbett, came hours after about 440 engineers and electricians who operate trains that connect Philadelphia and its suburbs walked off the job.

“That’s it. The strike is over," said Arthur Davidson, spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, one of the two unions on strike.

The strike began at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, when a mandatory 30-day cooling off period expired in contract talks between the workers' unions and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

The 13 regional rail lines stopped by the strike normally provide about 126,000 trips per weekday, with service stretching from the city's northern suburbs to Wilmington, Delaware.

The strike did not affect Philadelphia's subways, buses and other forms of mass transit that make up the bulk of the local transportation authority's system.

Service was expected to be restored "tomorrow or Monday at the latest," Davidson said. He said the electricians' union was looking forward to presenting its case to a third party. The other union, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, was not immediately available for comment. Obama acted after Corbett asked him to convene a presidential Emergency Board, which requires the striking engineers and electrical workers to return to the job and forces both sides back to the negotiating table.

“The people of Philadelphia and the surrounding region expect and deserve a safe and efficient rail system to get them to work, medical appointments, school and recreation," Corbett said in a statement. 

The Democratic president's decision to intervene in the dispute could prevent workers from striking for up to 240 days during negotiations.

The short strike on Saturday was less disruptive to Philadelphia area residents than it would have been if it continued until the start of the work week on Monday. The rail lines that have been shut down would serve about 48,000 riders on a typical Saturday.

Pension benefits and wages were the main sticking point in the negotiations, said SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams.

The workers have gone without a contract since 2009.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Barbara Goldberg; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Eric Walsh and Bernard Orr)

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Comments (16)
Bfstk wrote:
no contract since 2009 as the GOP plays it loose and fast to screw the workers. The President should not intervene as it’s none of his business in a local dispute. as for the GOP as they sow so shall they reap. GOP politicians have helped to make this mess and they need to fix it. In case they are thinking of privatization just imagine a private company running the transit system when its workers call in sick or go on strike. It would be even worse.

Jun 14, 2014 5:50pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
MonitorLizard wrote:
No contract since 2009. Well, I can guess why this is happening.

Jun 14, 2014 5:54pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
REnninga wrote:
When both labor and management have agreed to collective bargaining, and labor continues to work for 5-years without a new contract without exerting its leverage of a work-stoppage strike during that period, it seems clear that the city of Philadelphia does not have two parties bargaining in good faith.

If the President agrees to the Governor’s request to use his presidential executive authority to intervene, as numerous past US Presidents have done to resolve critical transportation strikes, then there should be a price for that intervention paid by the City of Philadelphia. If the city is unable to reach agreement with the Union within the 30-day cooling-off period, and sign a new multi-year contract with the unions, then the Federal Government should mandate arbitration and impose a new contract.

Jun 14, 2014 6:56pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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