PHILADELPHIA (AP) — President Barack Obama on Saturday forced union workers in Philadelphia's commuter rail strike to return to the job, granting Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett's request to create a presidential emergency board to mediate the contract dispute.
Obama ordered the establishment of the three-member board effective at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. He called for "a swift and smooth resolution" of the dispute between the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and its engineers and electricians unions.
Workers will have to return to the job when the board goes into effect after midnight, however SEPTA said rail service wouldn't be up and running until around 6 a.m. Sunday. They don't have to resume direct talks with each other, but they do have to participate with the board's process, which typically involves written submissions and hearings.
Obama is giving the board 30 days to deliver a report recommending how the dispute should be resolved.
More than 400 workers went on strike at midnight Saturday.
"As long as these workers show up for their regularly scheduled Sunday shifts, Regional Rail service will restored to full Sunday operations in the morning, starting with the first scheduled service trains runs on all of our 13 commuter rail lines," said SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams. First trains on Sundays start running at around 6 a.m., she said.
Stephen Bruno, vice president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, said his union's members will comply with the order and be back on duty at 12:01 a.m.
The move shut down train lines that carry commuters from Philadelphia to the suburbs, Philadelphia International Airport and New Jersey. The agency's subways, trolleys and buses continued to run.
Terry Gallagher, president and local chairman of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said the presidential intervention was "what we were waiting for."
"We have been five years without an agreement, trying to get to this point and we're happy we're here now," he said. Gallagher said employees will be notified to report to their next scheduled shifts.
"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," Corbett, a Republican, 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."