Mass-Transit Strike Stalls Philadelphia Commute
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
Nobody in Philadelphia took a subway, a bus or a trolley to work today. Usually 400,000 people do so, but transit workers are on strike and early this morning talks between the workers and management abruptly came to an end. Joining us now is Susan Phillips of member station of WHYY in Philadelphia. She's been covering the negotiations.
And, Susan, how did we get here in the first place?
SUSAN PHILLIPS reporting:
Well, Madeleine, they haven't had a contract since March 15th and there's been lots of postponements and basically what--where we stand today, it seems like it's no different than back in March. Contract talks stalled last night after breaking down on October 31st, which was the deadline. They went out on strike Monday morning, October 31st, and they've been out ever since. So this is the third day. The talks, as I said, last night ended in a stalemate.
BRAND: And what's the main sticking point?
PHILLIPS: The main sticking point is health care. SEPTA originally wanted the union to have their workers pay about 20 percent of their premiums, and then they put that down to 5 percent. The union all along has said, `We do not want to go back on our health care because we've made concessions in the past.' Right now the union is willing to be flexible if everyone in the transit union pays a part of their health insurance. Right now, as I said, there's really no movement.
BRAND: And what's the feeling among the residents there? Are they sympathetic with the union, or are they sick and tired of this and want to get back on the trains and buses?
PHILLIPS: You know, I've heard a lot of mixed reaction. Some people say this is sort of unrealistic. Everyone pays a part of their health insurance now. Other people say, `Well, they have a point but they're probably not going to be able to get out of paying something.' The strikers themselves say, `Well, we've, you know, already had enough concessions in the past and a deal was made that we would never have to concede on our health insurance.' And so they're pretty much saying that they don't want to pay for their health insurance.
BRAND: I understand the last strike in 1998 lasted 40 days. How long would this one--could this one last?
PHILLIPS: You know, it could go days. It could go weeks. Right now everything's sort of up in the air. Like I said, there seemed to be no progress last night, and the two sides really don't seem to be coming together on this issue of health care.
BRAND: Susan Phillips, reporter for WHYY in Philadelphia, thank you very much.
PHILLIPS: Thank you.
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