Updated at 5:17 pm
SEPTA went to court Friday, filing a lawsuit in a bid to force striking subway, bus and trolley operators back on the job, as TWU Local 234’s four-day-old strike shows no signs of stopping.
But a judge has not yet made a decision in the case, even as the transit authority brought forth witnesses and evidence in a bid to bolster its case — even as its union decried the legal maneuver. If SEPTA can prove residents’ safety and welfare are in danger, it’s possible the injunction could be granted today.
Workers walked off the job at midnight Monday, beginning a labor action that’s snarled public transportation in the nation’s fifth-largest city for the better part of a week. SEPTA vowed it would file an injunction to attempt to stop the union from striking on Election Day, but today the transit authority asked a judge to end the strike entirely.
Per its filing in court and arguments, continuation of the strike “constitutes a clear and present danger to the health, safety and welfare of our riders and the citizens of Philadelphia and the region.”
In a statement, TWU vowed to fight the legal maneuver “tooth and nail. We would prefer, however, to concentrate our attention on productive bargaining to reach a fair settlement.”
The transit agency sought an emergency hearing on its injunction, which began at 4:43 pm Friday afternoon.
“For the sake of our riders, employees and our taxpayers, we have to get this done,” said Carla Showell-Lee, SEPTA’s director of media relations. “Too much is at stake.”
In the filing, SEPTA cited danger to students at Philadelphia’s public schools, as the ongoing strike is “forcing children to walk, crossing congested intersections and thoroughfares” or causing them to “skip school altogether.” The filing also stresses hardship for residents of the city who earn less than $50,000 per year and can’t afford ride-sharing services or taxis to get to work.
The case was assigned to Philadelphia Judge Linda Carpenter, said Showell-Lee. SEPTA was prepared to introduce evidence and testimony.
In its statement condemning the filing, the transit workers union noted it was set to return to the bargaining table at 6 pm today.
“It appears that SEPTA’s plan all along was to avoid real bargaining while relying on legal tricks,” the union continued. “We are committed to bargaining a new agreement as soon as possible. That will happen at the bargaining table – not by rushing into court in a pointless attempt to restrict workers’ rights.”
The 4,700-member union authorized a strike at the end of October as it was looking like management wouldn’t cave on their main sticking point: Pensions. The union has long been frustrated that their workers have a cap on their pensions while members of SEPTA’s management do not.
TWU Local 234 President Willie Brown vowed the union would strike as long as it needed to, saying once the strike became official: “We’re pretty far apart. We are going to stay here and go upstairs and keep exchanging demands. I’m not optimistic we can [agree].”
On Wednesday night as negotiations were ongoing, SEPTA management essentially accused union leadership of not participating in “good-faith” negotiations, saying: “SEPTA negotiators have been working tirelessly to get a deal done, and we’re asking TWU leadership to do the same -– for the sake of their members, and the people who rely on them every day to safely get them where they need to go.”
The strike has had a major impact on the city that relies on public transportation — some 400,000 people use the service daily. Traffic in and out of the city was snarled for days and on the first day of the strike, some picketers took to Regional Rail tracks to tie up that service, too.
SEPTA won an emergency injunction against workers picketing the Regional Rail tracks within a few hours of its filing, but overcrowded conditions were still pervasive as the strike continued and more riders than usual relied on Regional Rail to get in and out of the city.