Strike Looms: Will SEPTA Regional Rail Stop?

Commuter trains serving the Philadelphia area will stop running this weekend if last-ditch contract negotiations fail, according to the regional transit agency and one of its unions.

Federal mediators asked the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority to meet Friday with the two unions representing about 400 engineers and electricians.

If no deal is reached, workers will strike at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, said Stephen Bruno, vice president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

He did not express optimism on Thursday, saying "a chasm" separates the parties.

Buses, trolleys and subways into Philadelphia will still operate. 

Thirteen regional rail lines serve about 126,000 passengers each weekday in the Philadelphia suburbs of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. If a walkout occurs, riders will be directed to the nearest non-commuter rail transit hub, said SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams. 


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A spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers did not return a call for comment Thursday. 

The engineers have been working without an agreement since 2010, while the electricians' contract expired in 2009. Their negotiations with SEPTA have been supervised by federal mediators for the past four years.

The conflict came to a head this week after SEPTA announced it would impose a deal beginning Sunday. Terms include raising electrical workers' pay immediately by an average of about $3 per hour; the top wage rate for locomotive engineers would rise by $2.64 per hour.
"The contract that we've given them is fair and fiscally responsible," Williams said. 

The agency said the raises are in line with those received by other unionized SEPTA employees, but Bruno disagreed. He said SEPTA offered the engineers raises of 11.5 percent over five years, but workers are seeking at least 3 percent more.
"There haven't been any consequences for SEPTA's intransigence," Bruno said. "We don't think they've been forthcoming with their best offer."
One wild card is a provision allowing the governor of an affected state to request a Presidential Emergency Board to intervene in the bargaining. That could prevent a strike for up to 240 days.
Spokesmen for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell did not return requests for comment on Thursday.
Amina Thompson-Wright, 35, of Philadelphia takes a regional rail to her city job as a child-abuse investigator. Her husband takes their one vehicle to work. 

"It would definitely put me in a bind to look for other forms of transportation," said Thompson-Wright, who would try to carpool with co-workers.
The last regional rail strike, in 1983, lasted for more than three months.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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