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Philly transit workers could strike any minute

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The transit union told worried commuters that their morning rush hour would be normal. Getting back in the afternoon, however, could be a mess.

Harry Lombardo, leader of Transport Workers Union Local 234, said workers would not strike immediately even though their contract expired at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. But he would not rule out calling a strike at midday.

"I cannot say that they will be able to get back to where they came from," Lombardo said.

A strike would shut down bus, subway and trolley service in the city, affecting an estimated 400,000 commuters and 23,500 schoolchildren. The last union walkout, in 1998, stopped service for 40 days.

Lombardo said health care remained a major sticking point. "We are this close," Lombardo said, spreading his fingers less than an inch apart. SEPTA Assistant General Manager Fran Egan would not say what issues were preventing an agreement.

In the event of a strike, transit officials were advising many riders use SEPTA's suburban rail lines — whose workers are covered by different union contracts — to connect to the downtown stations.

Others made contingency plans in event of a strike. Temple University and several hospitals, for example, said they would offer shuttle service to students and employees.

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