Obama orders Philly rail workers back on job

PHILADELPHIA — President Barack Obama on Saturday forced union workers in Philadelphia’s commuter rail strike to return to the job, granting Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s request to create a presidential emergency board to mediate the contract dispute.

Obama ordered the establishment of the three-member board effective at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. He called for “a swift and smooth resolution” of the dispute between the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and its engineers and electricians unions.

Workers will have to return to the job when the board goes into effect after midnight, however SEPTA said rail service wouldn’t be up and running until around 6 a.m. Sunday. They don’t have to resume direct talks with each other, but they do have to participate with the board’s process, which typically involves written submissions and hearings.

Obama is giving the board 30 days to deliver a report recommending how the dispute should be resolved.

More than 400 workers went on strike at midnight Saturday.

“As long as these workers show up for their regularly scheduled Sunday shifts, Regional Rail service will restored to full Sunday operations in the morning, starting with the first scheduled service trains runs on all of our 13 commuter rail lines,” said SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams. First trains on Sundays start running at around 6 a.m., she said.

Stephen Bruno, vice president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, said his union’s members will comply with the order and be back on duty at 12:01 a.m.

The move shut down train lines that carry commuters from Philadelphia to the suburbs, Philadelphia International Airport and New Jersey. The agency’s subways, trolleys and buses continued to run.

Terry Gallagher, president and local chairman of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said the presidential intervention was “what we were waiting for.”

“We have been five years without an agreement, trying to get to this point and we’re happy we’re here now,” he said. Gallagher said employees will be notified to report to their next scheduled shifts.

“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, a Republican, said in a statement. “I call on both parties to work together, find common ground and place the riders at the forefront of mind in their discussions.”

The unions said the strike was designed to force SEPTA to agree to their demands or accept binding arbitration. Workers are seeking raises of at least 14.5 percent over five years — or about 3 percentage points more than SEPTA has offered.

“My head’s going to hurt by the end of this day,” said volunteer Rusty Schwendeman of the Traveler’s Aid Society, who had helped reroute about two dozen rail travelers Saturday morning at 30th Street Station.

They often involved several connections, longer routes or a significantly higher fare on Amtrak.

Carolyn Tola, of Hamilton Square, New Jersey, and three friends paid $40 apiece to take Amtrak from central New Jersey to Philadelphia to see the Pennsylvania Ballet instead of $9 on Septa.

“We’re here,” Tola said, noting that the ballet tickets were nonrefundable. “We’re going to relax and enjoy it.”

The strike began after negotiations between the transit agency and two unions failed to reach a new contract deal Friday. The last regional rail strike, in 1983, lasted more than three months.

The labor 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 strike added to the commuting headaches in the region, where major construction projects are making it more difficult than usual to get around.

Drexel University dance team members Beverly and Angela Tomita, 18-year-old twins, had planned to take the airport line for a 2 p.m. flight home to Laguna Beach, California, for the summer.

“That’s so not convenient!” Angela Tomita said when she found the region rail entrance closed at 30th Street Station. Schwendeman soon directed them to a subway-and-bus route.

“They’re not the best answers, but they’re the best answers I can come up with,” Schwendeman told another teenager about her three-bus route home to suburban Blue Bell. “I don’t want to send anybody to the middle of nowhere, either.”

Talk to us

More in Local News

Cars move across Edgewater Bridge toward Everett on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edgewater Bridge redo linking Everett, Mukilteo delayed until mid-2024

The project, now with an estimated cost of $27 million, will detour West Mukilteo Boulevard foot and car traffic for a year.

Lynn Deeken, the Dean of Arts, Learning Resources & Pathways at EvCC, addresses a large gathering during the ribbon cutting ceremony of the new Cascade Learning Center on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, at Everett Community College in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New EvCC learning resource center opens to students, public

Planners of the Everett Community College building hope it will encourage students to use on-campus tutoring resources.

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman announces his retirement after 31 years of service at the Everett City Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett police chief to retire at the end of October

Chief Dan Templeman announced his retirement at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. He has been chief for nine years.

Boeing employees watch the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event  from the air stairs at Boeing on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Boeing’s iconic Everett factory tour to resume in October

After a three-year hiatus, tours of the Boeing Company’s enormous jet assembly plant are back at Paine Field.

A memorial for a 15-year-old shot and killed last week is set up at a bus stop along Harrison Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Teen boy identified in fatal shooting at Everett bus stop

Bryan Tamayo-Franco, 15, was shot at a Hardeson Road bus stop earlier this month. Police arrested two suspects.

Lynnwood
Fatal 2-car crash closes Highway 99 in Lynnwood

Police closed off Highway 99 between 188th Street SW and 196th Street SW while they investigated.

Mike Bredstrand, who is trying to get back his job with Lake Stevens Public Works, stands in front of the department’s building on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Bredstrand believes his firing in July was an unwarranted act of revenge by the city. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lake Stevens worker was fired after getting court order against boss

The city has reportedly spent nearly $60,000 on attorney and arbitration fees related to Mike Bredstrand, who wants his job back.

Chap Grubb, founder and CEO of second-hand outdoor gear store Rerouted, stands inside his new storefront on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Gold Bar, Washington. Rerouted began as an entirely online shop that connected buyers and sellers of used gear.  (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Used outdoor gear shop Rerouted finds a niche in Gold Bar

Seeking to keep good outdoor gear out of landfills, an online reselling business has put down roots in Gold Bar.

Naval Station Everett. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)
Everett man sentenced to 6 years for cyberstalking ex-wife

Christopher Crawford, 42, was found guilty of sending intimate photos of his ex-wife to adult websites and to colleagues in the Navy.

Most Read