Democrats relieved: Philly transit strike ends in time for Election Day

Democrats had worried the strike could suppress voter turnout among their reliable base of supporters in the most populous city in Pennsylvania, a swing state in Tuesday's presidential election.

David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer/AP
Commuters wait on the platform of Temple University station during the first day of the SEPTA strike in Philadelphia on Nov. 1.

After a nearly weeklong strike by public transit workers, Philadelphia's trains and buses should be up and running again by the time polls open on Election Day, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) said early Monday.

Democrats had worried the stoppage could dampen voter turnout Tuesday among the party's reliable supporter base in the swing state's largest city. But their unease was quelled with the announcement of a tentative agreement between SEPTA and the Transport Workers Union Local 234, which represents about 4,700 workers.

The five-year agreement, which must be ratified by union members and approved by the SEPTA board before it is finalized, increases wages, improves pensions, and "maintains health care coverage levels while addressing rising costs," SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale Deon told the Associated Press.

Since the workers first went on strike after midnight Nov. 1, gridlock has choked city streets during rush hour each morning and evening, regional rail service has seen its usage spike, and Philadelphia high schools have reported more absences than usual, since nearly 60,000 students ride SEPTA to and from classes at public, private, and charter schools alike.

"We know that the strike has caused a significant hardship for thousands of our riders," said Mr. Deon, as the Associated Press reports. "We sincerely regret this disruption to transportation throughout the City of Philadelphia and the region. We thank riders for their patience under these extremely challenging circumstances."

Pennsylvania, a swing state that carries 20 electoral votes in Tuesday's presidential election, does not give voters the option to vote early, unlike many other states. Because the strike would add a barrier between the ballot box and many Philadelphians, SEPTA had sought an injunction to order transit workers back to their job sites for Election Day, as The Christian Science Monitor reported:

There is no real precedent for such an injunction, leaving the decision in the hands of the court, Sara Goulet, communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, explains. It's a question of balancing the rights of striking workers with Philadelphians' ability to exercise their right to vote.

But a judge in state court declined the injunction request Friday evening, as ABC 7 reported, noting SEPTA would have an opportunity Monday to argue its case further. That opportunity is moot in light of the tentative agreement, which drew praise from Democratic leaders, including US Rep. Brendan Boyle (D) of Pennsylvania, who represents a portion of Philadelphia in the state's 13th Congressional district.

This is not the first time the union has gone on strike just before elections. In 2009, workers walked off the job for six days to secure higher wages and larger pensions. In 2014, a strike was narrowly avoided when a deal was reached one day before Election Day. But neither of those cases involved a presidential race.

Subway service would be the first restored, with some bus service available for Monday's evening rush hour, officials said. Full service typically takes 24 hours to return.

Material from The Associated Press was included in this report.

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