- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2014

Regional rail lines in greater Philadelphia were back up and running Sunday after President Obama stepped into a dispute between labor and management and ordered more than 400 engineers and electricians back to work.

In an executive order late Saturday, Mr. Obama — taking the rare step of wading into a local labor issue — created an “emergency board” to mediate negotiations between rail line workers and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). The three-person panel will report back to the president within 30 days, the executive order says.

Thirteen regional rail lines in and around Philadelphia, though not the city proper’s subways or SEPTA’s bus service, shut down Saturday when workers went on a brief strike, but they returned to the job early Sunday morning after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, asked the president to intervene.

SEE ALSO: Official: Philly area commuter rail service restored after Obama intervenes in transit strike

“The people of Philadelphia and the surrounding region expect and deserve a safe and efficient rail system to get them to work, medical appointments, school and recreation,” Mr. Corbett said in a statement. “I call on both parties to work together, find common ground and place the riders at the forefront of mind in their discussions.”

Mr. Obama acted within hours of Mr. Corbett’s request. Had the strike stretched into the regular work week, tens of thousands of regular commuters in the Philadelphia area would have been without public transportation.

While the executive order doesn’t end the dispute, it does require both sides to sit down with the emergency board and try to hammer out a solution.

SEE ALSO: Riders relieved Philadelphia rail strike is over

The dispute reportedly centers on pensions and pay raises for the Authority employees.

Union employees are seeking raises of at least 14.5 percent over five years — about 3 percentage points more than SEPTA’s most recent offer, according to The Associated Press.

SEPTA has avoided discussing the contract dispute publicly. On its Twitter feed Sunday, the Authority merely announced that “normal operations” had resumed.

But labor groups representing the electricians and engineers blasted both SEPTA and Mr. Corbett, arguing good-faith negotiations could have prevented the brief strike.

SEPTA refused to discuss the substantive economic issues associated with this dispute,” said Arthur J. Davidson, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen System Council No. 7. “The fact that Gov. Corbett waited for a strike to occur before he requested a presidential emergency board indicates the governor supported the tactics used by SEPTA during the final hours leading up to the strike.”

Saturday’s strike was the first since 1983, when regional rail service was interrupted for more than three months before the two sides came to an agreement.

SEPTA’s regional rail lines carry about 60,000 riders on the average weekday, accounting for roughly 15 percent of SEPTA’s total ridership, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.