PHILADELPHIA – Transit union officials in Philadelphia say they will fight “tooth and nail” against management’s bid to have a judge end a four-day strike that has idled subway cars, buses and trolleys and could disrupt travel on Election Day.
A city judge presiding over an emergency hearing on the injunction request late Friday afternoon suggested Election Day problems could wait for another day and asked what urgent safety matters were pressing through the weekend.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority argued in court papers that the strike was threatening the public’s health, safety and right to vote in Tuesday’s hotly contested presidential election.
Commuters have been dealing with clogged roads, jumping on bikes and organizing carpools around the city while more than 50,000 city children have to find other ways to get to school.
“We have to get this done. Too much is at stake,” said Carla Showell-Lee, spokeswoman for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.
The Transport Workers Union said it wants to hammer out an agreement through continued negotiations.
“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,” local union president Willie Brown said in a statement.
The state Supreme Court previously has upheld injunctions to end transit strikes over the public’s health and safety, especially when it comes to the ability of police, fire and ambulance crews to get around.
SEPTA argues that the elderly, disabled and ill are in danger of losing access to needed services. It also argued the strike would make it difficult for people who vote before or after work given the added commuting times the strike has caused.
On Thursday, the authority asked for assurances from the union that it would suspend its walkout on Election Day if no contract agreement is reached by then. Pennsylvania is a battleground state, and the vote in overwhelmingly Democratic Philadelphia is critically important to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as she battles Republican Donald Trump.
The union’s 4,700 workers walked off the job after midnight Monday, shutting down transit service that provides about 900,000 rides a day. Pensions, work rules and health care costs are among the issues on the bargaining table.
The walkout is the ninth since 1975 by the city transit union. The last one, in 2009, lasted six days. Some have lasted for weeks.