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Philly Transit Workers End Strike

July 11, 1998

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Buses, trolleys and subways began rolling this morning for the first time in weeks after a tentative contract agreement ended a 40-day transit workers’ strike that forced nearly half a million daily riders to find other ways to make their commutes.

The strike that began June 1 snarled traffic because of increased auto use, led to a couple of lawsuits and even a commuting-related death. It affected 450,000 daily riders in the nation’s fifth-largest city.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority restarted service before dawn today and offered free rides through Tuesday, discounts in the coming weeks and no fare hikes or cuts in service.

``I hope customers will give us a try again,″ general manager Jack Leary said at a news conference Friday evening, the sound of rolling subway cars serving as a welcome backdrop.

He can only hope most riders will be as understanding as Rasul Shareiff, 20. He was one of many ready to put away his alternative transportation _ a skateboard _ and jump back on the bus.

``It’s been too inconvenient. I’m ready for a good ride again,″ he said.

Commuters with cars bore the brunt of massive street and highway gridlock that resulted from the strike. Those without cars hiked through the heat or rode bicycles to work. One immigrant who learned to ride a bicycle so he could get to work died after hitting a truck.

Hundreds of businesses near SEPTA bus and train stations faced financial problems because of the drop in customers. The strike saw dozens of mass demonstrations, a pellet gun shooting, numerous court injunctions and on-and-off-again negotiations.

For the rank-and-file in the Transport Workers Union Local 234, including Dan Gaitan, 36, the hardship paid off.

``Forty days was well worth it,″ Gaitan said. ``I was ready to stick this out ... because it was all about SEPTA trying to break the union. We were determined not to let that happen.″

Key sticking points included the hiring of part-time employees, work rule changes, workers’ compensation reform and a zero tolerance policy for drug and alcohol users.

``It was a hard and difficult battle, a lot of bitterness, a lot of hard feelings,″ said Steven Brookens, president of the TWU local. ``We deserved everything we got. It was a victory. We took more than we gave.″

The negotiators would not discuss details of the contract until union members are notified. Members are to vote on the deal July 24.

If the agreement is ratified, the strike will have been the second-longest by the union against SEPTA. In 1977, the union struck for 44 days over wages and benefits.

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