By Jon Hurdle
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Bus, subway and trolley service in Philadelphia halted on Tuesday as transit workers went on strike over wages, pensions and health benefits.
Talks between the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and Transport Workers Union Local 234 broke down at midnight when union representatives walked out, calling the strike to start at 3 a.m., said Jerri Williams, a spokeswoman for the transit agency. About 4,700 workers are affected.
In the absence of most forms of public transit in America's sixth-largest city, some 800,000 people had to find other means of getting to work on Tuesday morning, Williams said. The only part of the system not affected was the regional rail network.
Union representatives rejected Septa's offer of 11 percent increases in wages and company pension contributions over five years; no increase in employee health benefit contributions from the current level of 1 percent of pretax earnings, and a $1,250 signing bonus for workers, Williams said.
"We believe that the package we were offering was fair and very generous," Williams said.
Mayor Michael Nutter, who was involved in talks for some 10 hours on Monday, attacked the union's walkout as "unreasonable," said his spokesman Luke Butler. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and other local officials were also involved in Monday's meeting.
"At a time when Philadelphians are losing their jobs and taking furlough days, it's outrageous for the union to walk out of these talks because the pay increase was not enough," said Butler. "There was a reasonable deal on the table."
The disruption to the public was heightened by the union representatives midnight walkout at a time when commuters had not made alternative arrangements for getting to work, Butler said.
A spokesman for the union was not immediately available for comment.
The talks had stalled last week but workers agreed to stay on the job until after the World Series games in Philadelphia were over.
Philadelphia's last transit strike was in 2005, and lasted five days, Williams said. No new talks are scheduled in the current strike.
(Editing by Theodore d'Afflisio)