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Philly Copes With First Day of Transit Strike

March 18, 1986

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Traffic officers working overtime kept increased auto traffic rolling through busy intersections Monday, the first business day of a transit strike that idled buses, trolleys and subways for 440,000 commuters.

Absenteeism was up in public schools and commuters jammed ticket windows for regional train lines not hit by the walkout that began Sunday by Transport Workers Local 234 against the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

Vandals set fire to a major electrical junction, knocking out signals and switches and causing some delays on regional rail lines, SEPTA said. The union denied involvement.

SEPTA spokesman Dave Murdock said the strike caused delays of up to two hours on suburban lines during rush hours, but that commuting should be better Tuesday because ″people will be a little bit more used to it.″

No new negotiations were scheduled, but John Ropars, business agent for the union, said local President Roger Tauss was trying to reach the state mediator to resume talks.

State mediator Edward Feehan did not return a phone call Monday, but said Sunday night that resuming talks would be ″absolutely futile.″

The contract for the 5,100 union members, who operate, repair and collect fares for SEPTA’s city division, expired at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, but on Friday night Tauss extended it for 42 hours while talks continued on a new three-year pact for wages and work-related issues.

When the negotiations collapsed, he accused SEPTA of reneging on its Friday proposal, a charge called ″absolutely false″ by SEPTA board chairman Lewis Gould. SEPTA workers average $11.50 per hour.

The strike came at the same time reconstruction has closed some lanes and entrance ramps on the Schuylkill Expressway, one of Philadelphia’s two main highways.

Police doubled the number of officers directing traffic, keeping about 120 officers on the streets compared to the usual 50 or 60, Officer John Donahue said. The department plans to have those officers working 12-hour days to cover about twice the usual number of intersections, he said.

Some of the white-capped officers wore green boutineers on their uniforms on St. Patrick’s Day.

″Traffic moved along very well,″ Donahue said after the morning rush hour.

The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, which has estimated that a strike would cost $2 million a day in lost business and working hours, said an informal survey of six downtown locations showed a 20 percent increase in morning traffic compared with Friday.

The chamber also said its surveyors saw more car pools and said checks of 40 downtown employers found no absenteeism or serious tardiness problems.

The city has provided thousands of extra parking spaces on streets where parking has been banned. It also opened empty lots for extra parking.

″A lot of people didn’t come to work today, so I get stuck with three dozen Italian rolls,″ said Mike Maltepes, who started the day with his usual order of five dozen rolls.

School district spokesman William Jones said 46,000 students, 36,000 from public schools, use SEPTA services to get to and from school.

″Attendance is running anywhere from 50 percent to 80 percent where it was running from about 75 percent to 95 percent, so it’s off quite a bit,″ Jones said.

The district also announced expanded hours for its Homework Hotline during the strike, and said many public school teachers gave students extra homework ″to assure their continued academic achievement.″

SEPTA’s commuter rail system and suburban buses and trolleys, which carry some 80,000 riders daily, are not affected, and the line for train tickets was more than 200 deep at one major downtown station during the lunch hour.

The walkout was their first by city-division workers since a 19-day strike in 1981. The city has had eight transit strikes since 1961. The longest was 44 days in 1973.

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