Action by the White House ended — at least for the time being — a strike by members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) that shut down commuter rail service in the Philadelphia metropolitan area on June 14.
President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order on Saturday evening, June 14, which became effective at 12:01, establishing a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to investigate contract disputes between the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) and over 400 of its workers represented by BLET and IBEW. Under the Order, workers returned to work after midnight on June 15.
The President’s action was in response to a request earlier in the day by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett that a PEB be named. The Governor’s request was made pursuant to Section 9a of the Railway Labor Act. Under the terms of the Executive Order, all pre-strike conditions are restored and may not be changed for 120 days, except by agreement of the parties to the disputes.
Commenting on the course of events over the past 36 hours, BLET Vice President Stephen J. Bruno said, “Responsibility for the shutdown lies squarely with SEPTA and with Governor Corbett. The BLET and IBEW agreed over six weeks ago to binding arbitration on the two issues separating the parties — payment of the full value of the TWU’s pattern contract and payment to our members of the full value of that package during the term of the agreement — but SEPTA rejected that proposal.
“Then, in the hours leading up to the strike and in a response to a National Mediation Board (NMB) request that the parties meet one last time in the public interest, SEPTA and the Governor attempted to frustrate the authority of the NMB by proposing an extra-legal, state-run process that would have done nothing but delay resolution of this dispute even further,” Bruno added. “Not once during this meeting did SEPTA make a single substantive proposal to resolve our dispute. It is unfortunate that SEPTA’s intransigence caused this inconvenience to the good citizens of the Philadelphia area.”
With regard to the events which occurred over the past 36 hours, IBEW, System Council No. 7 General Chairman Arthur J. Davidson stated: “The tactics employed by SEPTA management were the direct cause of the interruption of SEPTA service. In the hours leading up to the strike, SEPTA refused to discuss the substantive economic issues associated with this dispute. Conversely, SEPTA engaged in gamesmanship with respect to its attempt to implement procedures; which, if put into effect, would have been contrary to the best interests of the Organizations. The fact that Governor Corbett waited for a strike to occur before he requested a Presidential Emergency Board indicates that the Governor supported the tactics used by SEPTA during the final hours leading up to the strike.”
BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce reaffirmed the National Division’s support for the SEPTA workers involved in the struggle. “I want to thank and congratulate the BLET and IBEW members who stepped up today in their fight for a fair contract,” Pierce said. “This battle has moved on to another phase, and we will continue to do everything within our power to ensure that their goal is achieved.”