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SEPTA strike begins

Despite last-minute negotiations and a visit from Democratic heavy-hitter Congressman Bob Brady, 4,738 SEPTA workers walked off the job, halting subways, trolleys and buses in Philadelphia.

Here are key points to know about the SEPTA strike, which started at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday:

  1. What's not running: Market-Frankford Line, Broad Street Line, city buses (letters and numbers lower than 90), trolleys.

  2. What's running: Regional Rail, Norristown High Speed Line, suburban buses (numbers higher than 90), CCT Connect

  3. The issues that stalled negotiations: Health care, pension caps, breaks between routes and shifts. Both sides were slated to meet again Tuesday afternoon.

  4. City government and schools are operating normally amid the strike.

  5. Many people are driving because they can't take public transit, leading to big traffic jams.

The Story

Despite last minute negotiations and a visit from Democratic heavy-hitter Congressman Bob Brady, 4,738 SEPTA workers walked off the job Monday night, beginning a strike that halted subways, trolleys and buses in Philadelphia.

"We are not able to come to an agreement with SEPTA so as of 12:01 a.m. we're on strike," said Willie Brown, president of Transportation Workers Union Local 234, which represents almost 5,000 SEPTA workers who are hitting the picket lines Tuesday morning.

Bus drivers running overnight routes completed their routes and dropped off their remaining passengers, and then returned their buses to the depot and walked off the job.

Brown didn't offer a prediction on how long the strike would last.

Both TWU and SEPTA kept talking after the midnight deadline passed, but no resolution had been reached as commuters began heading to work Tuesday.

Fare payers make 800,000 to 850,000 trips on SEPTA subway trains, buses and trolleys in Philadelphia daily.

While the two parties still have a week to resolve their differences, a closely contested presidential campaign looms on Nov. 8 and the region is expected to be critical for both candidates. SEPTA would seek an injunction from U.S. District Court to force striking workers back to their jobs for Election Day if the strike threatened to overlap with the election.

The possibility of a strike stretching to Election Day has prompted concern from Hillary Clinton's campaign, said Brady during a visit shortly after 7 p.m. to the Sheraton at 17th and Race streets, where negotiations were held.

"Hillary Clinton's guy, Corey Dukes (director of the candidate's Pennsylvania campaign), had a little concern," Brady said.

The Philadelphia Board of Commissioners, which oversees elections in the city, said in 2009 a TWU strike overlapped with an election and didn't hurt turnout,  but that was not an election where a president was being chosen.

"It's gonna hurt," Brady said on the possibility of the strike extending to Election Day. "It'll hurt."

SEPTA and Transportation Workers Union Local 234 were unable to resolve a host of issues by the midnight deadline when the union's contract expired. Union workers were unwilling to accept the possibility of health care hikes that could have boosted their contribution from $552 a year to up to $6,000 if they wanted to keep equivalent medical coverage, union representatives said. They also were unhappy about a pension cap at $50,000 for workers while managers' pensions had no cap at all. Matters not related to dollars and cents were also in dispute. TWU members said SEPTA's break policies for vehicle operators barely left them enough time to use the bathroom between routes, and complained the nine hours of down time a worker must receive between shifts was not enough, forcing operators to drive vehicles while fatigued.

SEPTA, for its part, argued its $1.2 billion pension is only 62 percent funded and a substantial increase in pension benefits would make that disparity worse. It also said workers currently enjoy a "Cadillac" health care plan that costs them just $46 a month, and that work was already underway to adjust schedules.

In the last hour before the union contract expired representatives from both sides presented radically different descriptions of negotiations. SEPTA personnel described the talks as "moving in the right direction," while a union spokesman said the exact opposite. Minutes after the strike began Governor Tom Wolf issued a statement urging the two to keep talking.

"...the inability of TWU and SEPTA to reach an agreement is devastating for many of these individuals and their families," Wolf said.

When asked about the hundreds of thousands who will be inconveniened by the strike, Brown, the union president, said, "I'm sorry."

"It's the only tool we have available to us," he said.