SEPTA police on strike

June 13, 2008 8:52:18 PM PDT
Transit police in the city went on strike just before the evening rush Friday after working without a contract for nearly two years.About 200 officers , who mostly patrol the city's main subway lines, walked off the job around 3:15 p.m.

"We want to work. We want to be out there. We want to protect the people," said Steve Richards, a striking member of the Fraternal Order of Transit Police. "But we want a fair contract."

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority released a statement Friday saying that there would be no reduction in security because transit police commanders, city police officers and private security guards would replace the striking officers.

"The big message here is that SEPTA is safe," Mayor Michael Nutter said at an impromptu press conference near a downtown SEPTA station where dozens of transit officers gathered after turning in their guns and badges.

The striking officers stood with black and white signs around their necks and handed out fliers as Nutter called the strike "regrettable and unnecessary," and an action to "inconvenience the riding public."

The transit officers mostly patrol the Broad Street Subway and the Market-Frankford Line. They want the same pay as officers in the Philadelphia Police Department; city police officers start at about $39,000 a year, compared to $30,752 for a transit officer. "If you want to be paid like a Philly police officer, join the Philly police force," Nutter said.

Union spokesman Anthony Ingargielo said management's last offer was to provide raises for new hires, but take away longevity pay for veteran officers.

Ingargielo called the offer "insulting."

In its statement, SEPTA called the strike "totally avoidable" and said it had agreed to the recommendations of a fact finder working for the Pennsylvania Bureau of Mediation, but that the union rejected that.

The transit officers' last contract expired Sept. 30, 2005, and was extended for one year. The union membership has rejected three tentative agreements. SEPTA turned down a union request for binding arbitration last week.

SEPTA General Manager Joe Casey echoed the mayor's statements and said the company is ready to go back to the negotiating table. "We're willing to meet this weekend," Casey said. "We're willing to meet tonight."

The walkout happened as schools let out, a period when crime by juveniles on the subways is typically at its worst. The subways have been plagued by violent crime in recent months, including the unprovoked March 26 beating of a man who collapsed and died.

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Associated Press Writer Dan Robrish contributed to this story.

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