The Philadelphia transit system's largest union went on strike early Tuesday, stalling the city's bus, subway and trolley operations a day after the World Series shifted to New York and forcing commuters to scramble to find other ways to get to their destinations.
The strike by Transport Workers Union Local 234 will all but cripple a transit system that averages more than 928,000 trips each weekday. The union represents more than 5,000 drivers, operators and mechanics of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.
"There will be people waking up this morning needing to commute into work. And unfortunately, there's not going to be service for them," said SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams.
The union had threatened to go on strike during the World Series. But over the weekend Gov. Ed Rendell ordered the union and SEPTA to remain at the bargaining table or risk consequences.
Willie Brown, the local's president, said they decided to strike after both sides agreed that they had gone as far as they could in negotiations. The announcement came just hours after the Phillies beat the Yankees in Game 5 of the World Series, the last game to be played at Citizens Bank Park. Brown said the strike was effective as of 3 a.m. Tuesday.
The doors to subway stations were gated off Tuesday and no buses crawled the streets in the city's downtown corridor. Commuters trying to get to work said they had to make last-minute accommodations when they awoke to word of a strike.
"We don't deserve to wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning to find out if there's a strike," said Jeffrey Chandler, 49, who had to call a friend for a ride to SEPTA's regional rail line so he could get to his job as a hotel room attendant.
Chandler, who usually takes three buses to get to his train station, said he's not sure how he'll get home.
"I have no idea," he said.
Aisha Nnoli, a doctor from Upper Darby, had just finished a 12-hour shift at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital when she found the gates closed at her elevated train stop. When she went to the next station and saw it was also closed, she said she started realizing there might be a strike.
Eventually, she went to an information kiosk and found that she could at least get halfway home by using regional rail.
"It's an inconvenience, obviously," Nnoli said.
The Election Day strike also affects buses that serve the suburbs in Bucks, Montgomery, and Chester counties. Regional rail service was still operating, but trains were delayed as they experienced higher-than-normal crowds.
Working without contract
The two sides had postponed a scheduled Sunday night meeting. They met again Monday at Rendell's regional office in Philadelphia. SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said the talks ended after union negotiators walked out at around midnight.
The union membership voted Oct. 25 to authorize a strike. They have been without a contract since March.
Union workers, who earn an average $52,000 a year, are seeking an annual 4 percent wage hike and want to keep the current 1 percent contribution they make toward the cost of their health care coverage.
Maloney said SEPTA was offering an 11.5 percent wage increase over 5 years, with no raise in the first year, and increases in workers' pensions.
A 2005 SEPTA strike lasted seven days, while a 1998 transit strike lasted for 40 days.
Frank Brinkman, a union member who does electronic work on an elevated SEPTA train, was out on the picket line early Tuesday. He said he was concerned about pension issues and changes to work rules.
"We've been ready since March 15," Brinkman said of the strike. "We're in here for the long haul."
He said the union didn't want to strike, but that SEPTA gave it no choice.
"We don't want to see anybody suffer," he said. "We have to stand up for our rights."