The six-day long transit nightmare in Philadelphia is over.
SEPTA management and the Transit Workers Union Local 234 have come to a tentative agreement on a five-year contract. That means that transportation in the city — the Market-Frankford Line, the Broad Street Line, buses and trolleys — will resume full operation within the next 24 hours just in time for Election Day. The Monday morning commute is still expected to be messy, but major services could be back at some point today.
SEPTA board chair Pat Deon apologized for the disruption in service, saying “this has been a long few days here.” Deon noted that fares will increase to help fund the deal, but those increases had already been planned. Officials also emphasized the nature of the five-year deal, meaning it’ll be some time before the city might see another SEPTA strike.
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.
And by the stroke of midnight on Nov. 1, workers in SEPTA’s city division were officially walking off the job. 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].”
Mayor Jim Kenney released a statement Monday morning commendeding Deputy Mayor Rich Lazer, State Rep. Dwight Evans, the Governor’s staff and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady for working with both sides.
“I am thankful that the Transport Workers Union and SEPTA have reached a settlement,” he said in the statement, “and I am very grateful to residents and commuters for their patience over the last six days.”
State Rep. Dwight Evans, who serves on SEPTA’s board, spoke at an early morning news conference announcing the deal.
“We’re in this together, the workers and the management. It’s working together. And in any family, you’re going to have differences of opinion,” Evans said. “We worked literally every single day — the governor, the mayor, all that was involved, congressman Brady — everyone had a different approach but we got to where we wanted, which was a settlement.”
The strike had a major impact on the city that absolutely relies on public transportation — some 900,000 trips are made 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 initially won an injunction against workers picketing the Regional Rail tracks, 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.
Meanwhile, Uber reported that its sales have increased dramatically. Others relied on biking, walking, driving and taking advantage of decreased parking prices.
SEPTA had filed a lawsuit Friday asking a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas to issue a preliminary injunction and end the ongoing strike. Carpenter denied their request and instead scheduled Monday’s hearing to consider ordering SEPTA workers back on the job for Election Day.
Attorneys for SEPTA claimed in that original request that the strike was putting residents of the city in danger, saying more than 55,000 school children who rely on the service to get to school have been relegated to the sidewalks. They also said disabled Philadelphians are struggling to just get around, and raised concerns about voter disenfranchisement on Election Day.
“SEPTA serves a population,” SEPTA attorney Robert Hawkins said, “that is uniquely transit dependent.” Governor Tom Wolf announced Sunday that his office was filing a brief supporting SEPTA and urging an end to the strike. Meanwhile, the City of Philadelphia’s solicitor announced a motion to suspend the work stoppage for Election Day.
Attorneys representing the striking union called the unprecedented maneuver “gamesmanship.”
“It appears that SEPTA’s plan all along was to avoid real bargaining while relying on legal tricks,” TWU Local 234 said in a news release blasting the legal filing. “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.”