As hundreds of thousands of commuters and schoolchildren braced for a second day without public transit, Gov. Rendell and Mayor Nutter chastised union leaders for calling the surprise predawn strike.
With SEPTA buses, subways and trolleys idled, thousands of extra riders Tuesday crammed onto Regional Rail trains, forcing widespread delays, especially during the evening rush hour. Many others took to their cars, snarling traffic throughout the region.
Negotiations could resume tomorrow between SEPTA and striking Transport Workers Union Local 234, which represents about 5,100 SEPTA vehicle operators and mechanics. The workers went on strike at 3 a.m. Monday.
"It was an ambush of the citizens and the riding public," said Nutter. "No one saw this coming. Everyone was caught off guard here."
Nutter and Rendell, who had prevailed on the TWU not to strike during the World Series games in Philadelphia, criticized union leaders for turning down what the governor called a "sensational" contract in tough economic times.
"If the workers were presented with that deal yesterday, I have no doubt it would have been accepted," Nutter said. "No one, no one, no one has that kind of deal sitting in front of them right now. It's insane."
TWU Local 234 President Willie Brown said the major reasons for the strike were increased pension contributions from workers, job "picking" rights, and the length of the contract. He said the union wanted 3 percent wage increases for each year of a four-year contract.
"I understand I'm the most hated man in Philadelphia right now," Brown said. "I have no problem with that."
Rendell said the five-year contract spurned by TWU leaders called for a $1,250 signing bonus upon ratification, a 2.5 percent raise the second year, and a 3 percent raise in each of the next three years.
It also called for an increase in pension payments to workers and no increase in their health-insurance contributions.
Rendell said he had agreed to give SEPTA $6 million from an economic development fund in the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to help pay for the contract sweeteners.
"The union leadership walked on a victory last night," Rendell said Tuesday. "They just didn't know when to declare victory."
Brown said he had gone against his union's best interests by acquiescing on Friday to the request of Rendell and Nutter not to strike during the World Series.
"The smart thing to do would have been to say, 'We're going out,' " Brown said. "My workers wanted me to go. But I didn't. I'm a Philadelphian, too."
Once the threat of a strike during the World Series evaporated, Brown said, Rendell and Nutter grew increasingly inflexible.
"They were kicking us around like we were the prime cans of the world."
Brown said Nutter's biggest concern was that the SEPTA contract would set a pattern for city workers, including police and firefighters. Brown argued that SEPTA was in better financial condition than the city and could afford a more generous settlement.
Nutter said "the parameters kept changing. It's difficult to negotiate when you don't know what the key points are and who's making the decisions."
No talks were held Tuesday, as hundreds of thousands of work-a-day riders scrambled to find alternate ways to and from work and school.
Rendell, Nutter and U.S. Rep. Robert Brady (D., Pa.) were involved in the talks until they broke off early Tuesday. Rendell, who said he had slept little for the last three nights and missed Game 5 of the World Series because of the negotiations, said he was willing to continue to work with both sides.
"All the movement was on the management side," said Rendell.
In a telephone news conference from New York, Rendell said that the contract rejected by the TWU leadership was much better than the terms being received by workers in the private sector or those at the transit agency in Pittsburgh.
"Most people are losing their pensions, most people are paying a significantly higher level of contributions for health care," Rendell said.
Union leaders "have to deal with the reality of the situation and look at the economy," Rendell said, urging union members to contact their leaders and urge a settlement.
But Brown said SEPTA is in better financial condition now than it was in 2005, when it agreed to annual 3 percent wage increases for its workers.
And he said SEPTA has underfunded the union's pension for years, forcing union members to pay 1.5 percent more now in pension contributions for little pension increase for most workers.
Brown said the issue of job "picking" rights, involving the right of some workers to choose the equipment they drive, was vital to offset gender discrimination by SEPTA in how jobs were assigned. He said SEPTA managers were refusing to allow women to drive certain vehicles.
Rendell, who on Saturday had threatened sanctions against either side who walked out on talks, did not specify what action, if any, he might take against the union.
"I might decide, if the strike goes on for a length of time, I'm not going to put in state money" to help SEPTA pay for wage increases, he said, referring to the $6 million from the PennDot economic development fund.
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) called for an immediate resumption of negotiations.
"The working men and women and their families in the neighborhoods of Philadelphia are the ones feeling the impact of today's transit system strike most severely," Fattah said in a statement. "Both management and union may see these riders as 'leverage,' but they are not pawns, they are the lifeblood of our city – especially in these harsh economic times. They deserve better, and they deserve an immediate settlement."
Striking SEPTA workers defended their action Tuesday.
Adrian Mapp, a Broad Street subway operator and former bus driver who has worked for SEPTA for 18 years, said, "We're not greedy. We just want what's fair."
On the picket line outside the Fern Rock Transportation Center, Mapp and other strikers said the contract offered by SEPTA after seven months was inadequate.
"We move this city," said gray-bearded subway operator Percy Harris, 50. "We don't want to strike. We got bills to pay and families to feed too."
With hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, and R&B music playing, workers cited disparities in benefits between workers and management, the loss of picking rights, and a lack of pension funding as reasons they were on the picket line.
"When we tried to negotiate in good faith, they didn't even want to come to the table," said subway operator Sharon Richardson. "Now it's [portrayed] like we're holding them hostage."
And of the inconvenience to SEPTA riders?
"We're damned if we do, and we're damned if we don't," said Harris. "The riding public is not educated on what we're fighting for. Why should we work under stressful conditions without getting paid for it?"
Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or email@example.com.
Staff writers Kia Gregory and Jennifer Lin contributed to this article.