SEPTA police could strike

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - May 19, 2008

Talks are scheduled Thursday between the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and the Fraternal Order of Transit Police, along with a state mediator.

SEPTA does not expect a strike, but "we would provide adequate security for our riders" should it happen, said agency spokesman Richard Maloney. City police and private security guards would be used, SEPTA officials said.

The subways have been plagued by violent crime recently, including an unprovoked March 26 beating of a man who collapsed and died. SEPTA responded by using overtime to add 30 officers to the 60 already on duty between 2 and 5 p.m., when crime by teenagers is at its worst.

"It took a violent incident to get SEPTA to put more officers out there, but they're a day late and a dollar short," union president Richard Neal Jr. said.

SEPTA police have been without a contract for 30 months, with union members rejecting three tentative agreements in that time.

The agency has offered its police a 3 percent annual wage increase over four years, with a requirement that officers contribute 1 percent of their salaries to help pay for health care. The police are seeking a "double-digit increase," Neal said.

The transit agency has a $130 million budget surplus, Neal added, which he suggested should be used to augment the force of 201 officers and increase salaries to be on par with Philadelphia police officers'.

The current starting salary for a SEPTA officer is $30,752 a year, with a maximum salary after four years of $49,804. City police start at about $39,000.

Maloney said transit officers have never had parity with their city counterparts.

"They're always welcome to go join the Philadelphia Police Department," Maloney said.

Unlike Philadelphia city police, transit officers are not prohibited by law from striking.

Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer,

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