Strike could mar Philly transit services

PHILADELPHIA -- A union representing more than 5,000 transit workers agreed early Saturday to extend to 6 p.m. ET the deadline for a strike that could disrupt bus and subway services during the World Series games in Philadelphia.

The union had threatened to go on strike as early as 12:01 a.m. ET
Saturday if talks with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority did not reach some accord.

But after that deadline came and went, Allison Cooper, vice president of Transport Workers Local
234, said the group agreed to a request from Gov. Ed Rendell that it continue negotiations.

"There is no strike right now," Cooper said early Saturday. "We are going to continue to talk until 6 p.m."

SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said he could not immediately comment on any extension of the talks.

The two sides discussed wages, pensions and health care until Thursday, but early Friday, transit officials said the union did not plan to resume negotiations until Friday evening.

"It certainly is disappointing they're going to allow a good part of a day to pass by without talking to us," Maloney said Friday.

He called the earlier talks "constructive," but stopped short of saying any real progress was made.

The Phillies and New York Yankees are scheduled to play the third, fourth and fifth games of the World Series on Saturday, Sunday and Monday in Philadelphia.

The city's sports weekend doesn't stop with the Series, either. The NHL's Flyers host the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon; a Pearl Jam concert will be held in the Spectrum on Saturday night; and the Eagles play host to the New York Giants on Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field.

Still, the vast majority of the 810,000 people who use SEPTA buses, subway lines and trolleys are trying to get to work, not to sporting events.

"It's really wonderful that Philadelphia is in the World Series," Maloney said. "But our focus and responsibility as a transit authority is to get upwards of 1 million people a day to work, to school, to doctor's appointments."

The union represents about 5,000 bus drivers, subway and trolley operators, and mechanics who make an average of $52,000 a year. They are seeking an annual 4 percent wage hike, while SEPTA is offering no raises in the first two years and 2 percent raises in the final two years of a four-year contract.

On health care, the union wants to keep its current contribution of 1 percent of salary, or about $10 a week on average. SEPTA wants to raise the contribution to 4 percent, noting that the contributions of city and state workers are likewise going up.

SEPTA drivers and operators earn $14.54 to $24.24 an hour, and reach top pay after four years. Mechanics make $14.40 to $27.59 an hour, SEPTA said. Their contract, which expired in March, has a no-layoff provision.

Ridership has fallen by about 37,000 people a day since July, perhaps because of high unemployment, Maloney said. The base fare is $2.

About 41 percent of SEPTA's $1.13 billion operating budget comes from revenues and the rest from subsidies.

A 2005 SEPTA strike lasted seven days, and a 1998 strike hampered the transit system for 40 days.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.