By RON TODT, Associated Press Writer Ron Todt, Associated Press Writer
PHILADELPHIA – Trolleys, subways and buses were running again Monday and riders were trickling back to the city's transit system after an early-morning contract agreement ended a crippling six-day strike.
Commuters awoke to news that the strike was over and that service would be restored in time for the morning rush. Many had been hitching rides, driving or taking regional rail lines as they struggled to get to work for nearly a week.
Teddy Stansbury, 62, of northeast Philadelphia, was glad to be back on the subway, heading to work at his job at the naval yard in south Philadelphia. But he said he was frustrated by the strike, saying all it did was hurt people who were trying to get to work and school.
"I really feel they shouldn't be allowed to go on strike," said Stansbury, who had been hitching rides from co-workers and noted that the strike mostly hurt poor and working-class commuters. "At the end of it all, who really suffers?"
About 5,000 workers for Transport Workers Local 234 walked off the job early Nov. 3 in a dispute centered around pension benefits.
Transit officials said they expected the system to be close to fully operational for the Monday morning commute.
SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said that all bus, subway and trolley lines were running as of 6 a.m., with service at about 80 percent of normal. The city's two main subway lines were up and running by 4 a.m., Maloney said.
"This was a team effort, and that's what it takes to get a deal done," Mayor Michael Nutter said, crediting the intervention of Gov. Ed Rendell and U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa.
Willie Brown, president of the Transport Workers Local 234, said a ratification vote will likely be held in about a week and a half, and he expects members to approve the contract.
That's good news for thousands of riders who use SEPTA in Philadelphia every day.
Issiaga Sylla, 27, of west Philadelphia, was taking the bus to a regional rail line early Monday so he could get to his job at a retail store in the suburbs.
Sylla had been getting up early so he could find other ways to get to the regional rail — whose lines were still running because their workers are represented by a different union.
"It's not easy," he said, adding that he was relieved the strike was over.
Rendell and Brady had announced a tentative agreement late Friday, but it fell apart Saturday over the union's call for an independent audit of the pension fund and assurance that members would not be affected if the company's costs increased with possible passage of a national health reform plan.
The governor said changes to the language regarding national health care and another change on dental benefits cleared the way for a deal. On the union's call for a forensic audit of pension funds, the governor said the union's two members on the pension fund's advisory board could call for such an audit "so that became a non-issue."
The union had threatened to strike while the World Series was in town, but negotiators continued bargaining after Rendell threatened consequences if that happened. The union went on strike early Tuesday, hours after the series between the Phillies and Yankees shifted back to New York.
The regional rail system, while still running, had problems of its own as riders flocked to it as an alternative during the strike.
A railcar heading downtown caught fire Wednesday, causing delays and confusion but no serious injuries.
On Thursday, a train struck and killed a rail worker, stranding hundreds of riders during the morning rush hour. The agency said neither accident was related to increased volume due to the strike.
Associated Press Writer Patrick Walters contributed to this report.