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Philly Transit Workers End Strike

July 11, 1998

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Trolley cars and subway trains were back on track Saturday and buses were rolling again after a 40-day transit strike that aggravated the daily commutes of 450,000 regular riders.

A tentative contract agreement Friday ended the strike that began June 1. To win back riders who have taken cars, bicycles _ even skateboards _ to work in the meantime, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority offered free rides through Tuesday and discounts in the coming weeks.

Officials also promised there would be no fare hikes or service cuts.

``I hope customers will give us a try again,″ general manager Jack Leary said Friday, with the sound of rolling subway cars audible in the background.

Among those glad about the settlement was rider Rasul Shareiff, 20, who was ready to put away his alternative transportation _ a skateboard _ and jump back on the bus.

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

City officials and the Transport Workers Union Local 234 reached an accord giving the city’s 5,200 drivers and mechanics a 9 percent raise over three years and sending the hotly contested issue of hiring part-time workers to an arbitrator.

Under the agreement, the average TWU member’s pension benefits will increase by about 32 percent, but the deal also introduces limits on workers’ compensation benefits for at least some employees.

The deal also lengthens the amount of time it takes to reach top scale, from 30 months to 48 months. Union members will vote on ratification July 24.

The strike brought street and highway gridlock as more commuters used their cars. Others living within walking distance trudged to workplaces. Many rode bicycles, including one immigrant who learned to ride a bicycle so he could get to work and died after smashing into a truck.

Businesses catering to commuters near bus and train stations saw profits plummet. The strike also brought dozens of mass demonstrations and numerous court injunctions amid on-and-off negotiations.

For rank-and-file union members, the hardship of a lengthy strike paid off, transit worker Dan Gaitan said.

``Forty days was well worth it,″ said Gaitan, 36. ``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.″

Negotiations stalled on points including the hiring of part-time employees, disputed 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.″

If the agreement is ratified, the strike will have been the second-longest by the union against SEPTA. In 1977, workers walked out and remained off the job for 44 days in a strike over wages and benefits.

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