Judge denies injunction to end strike, will revisit Monday

A judge ruled Friday there was no urgent need to issue an injunction to end Philadelphia’s four-day transit strike, but said she would take a second look at the request before Election Day.

After a 2 1/2-hour hearing Friday night, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Linda Carpenter denied SEPTA's request to immediately force 4,738 striking workers back on the job. She scheduled a second hearing for 9:30 a.m. Monday.

“There’s enough evidence that an injunction might be appropriate,” Carpenter said. “There’s not enough evidence that injunction right now is necessary.”

SEPTA had been threatening to go to court since the strike began at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, and filed the injunction paperwork at 3 p.m. Friday. The strike has brought the city’s subways, buses, and trolleys to a standstill and caused heavy traffic on the region's streets, highways and regional rail.

“This is about the riders,” said Pasquale Deon, SEPTA’s board chairman, “and it’s just a horrible situation to put the city of Philadelphia in.”

After the judge’s decision, lawyers representing the Transportation Workers Union Local 234 said the ruling supported their argument that the strike was not causing irreparable harm to the city or its residents.

“We recognize strikes are inconvenient, we recognize that strikes cause people to endure conditions that they frankly [would] rather not endure and the union would rather they not endure,” said Nancy Lassen, an attorney representing the TWU. “But that is not a basis under Pennsylvania law to grant an injunction against striking employees.”

Negotiations resumed Friday evening and were expected to continue through the weekend. SEPTA officials said Friday it would take an estimated 24 hours from the end of a strike to get its routes back to regular service.

SEPTA officials insisted the motion to force strikers back to work didn’t mean negotiations had reached an impasse.

“I think we’re at that tipping point where we’re at a really good deal,” Deon said Friday before the judge's ruling.

The injunction motion came even as both sides claimed the two sides in the negotiations were not far apart in their proposals. The key matters in the negotiations have included pensions, health insurance, and breaks for workers.

A source with knowledge of the negotiations said the TWU had presented SEPTA with a proposal Friday afternoon.

SEPTA’s injunction motion described the strike as a "clear and present danger" to the public’s health, safety, and welfare. It argued the strike was keeping children from school, making travel around the city difficult for people with disabilities and those in need of medical treatment, and threatening to disenfranchise voters in Tuesday's presidential election.

Trying to end a strike through the courts appears to be an unprecedented step for the authority. This week’s work stoppage is the 12th strike in the last 41 years for the public transit system now known as SEPTA, eight of which involved the labor group striking now, city transit workers. None of those strikes ended with injunctions.

If the injunction had succeeded, it would have made this week’s strike the shortest since 1975. The last strike, in 2009, lasted six days. A city transit division strike in 1977 lasted 44 days.

The judge questioned some of the assertions in SEPTA's motion. She noted, for example, that data on how the strike was affecting school children — about 55,000 students a day are transported to schools by SEPTA buses — did not come from school officials themselves.

One of SEPTA’s central arguments was that the strike would affect voter turnout. Even though most polling places are near people’s homes, the agency argued, “citizens, especially the elderly and disabled, will not have the ability to use SEPTA to travel between polling places and their homes and workplaces.”

Ralph Teti, one of the union’s lawyers, responded that most people walk to their polling location and don’t need a bus or train. Carpenter interjected and asked about city residents who work in King of Prussia who want to vote but also need to get to work on time and now have a longer commute because of the strike.

During her final statements, Carpenter again referenced the election.

“The election is not until [Nov. 8],” she said. “There’s no immediacy to issue an injunction today.”

Staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen contributed to this report.

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