SEPTA transit police union remains on strike | What you should know

SEPTA police officers said they hope this strike doesn't last long with Christmas just two weeks away.

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Saturday, December 16, 2023
SEPTA transit police union remains on strike
SEPTA transit police union remains on strike

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- SEPTA and members of the Fraternal Order of Transit Police Lodge 109 have not been able to come to terms on a new contract.

Negotiations continued Friday after members voted to strike this week. But a mediator sent both sides home before 12 p.m., requesting that they think of creative ways to get a deal done.

Vice President of the Fraternal Order of Transit Police Lodge 109 Troy Parham said on Thursday that the two sides were no closer to agreeing on a deal. Parham accused SEPTA of offering a deal that was worse than the one union members rejected on Wednesday.

"They've now taken the $3,000 signing bonus, which in their opinion and their proposal, which we told them we don't like, was contingent upon us not having a work stoppage. Well, we did not agree to that.," Parham told Action News.

He said the new offer also included the same 13% pay raise over 43 months that was previously offered by SEPTA. However, the union has raised objections to the length of the contract and continues to press SEPTA for a contract with a 36-month term.

The union said the deal SEPTA is offering would ultimately lower officer's average annual wage increase to 3.63%, instead of the 4.33% average annual wage increase they'd see if the contract term was 36 months.

SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said the transit agency would not back down from their 43 month term in its latest contract offer.

SEPTA officials said it would cost millions of dollars more to bring the increases in sooner and that it's more feasible to do it that way but the union wants the pay increase all at once. Additionally, the police union received an unscheduled, in-contract pay increase that averaged more than 17% last year.

Parham questioned whether SEPTA was serious about reaching a deal and protecting its riders on system that has seen its fair share of crime in the recent past.

"Do they care that we're on strike or not? Do they care about the safety of their riders or not? They're not acting like it right now," he said.

Busch said he was hopeful the two sides could work out a deal. And while the transit agency has a contingency plan in place, it would much rather its officers patrolling the transit system.

"We think we have a fair offer on the table. There's some things we have to work out but we do think we could continue those negotiations with our officers still on the job," Busch said.

The strike, which was approved by two-thirds of the Fraternal Order of Transit Police Lodge 109 members, began immediately.

"Instead of walking the beat and patrolling public transit, we will be walking the picket line," said FOTP's President Omari Bervine, who is a SEPTA patrol officer. "SEPTA has devalued their patrol officers. This vote shows our members are tired of being shortchanged. We deserve comparable wages and terms to what bus drivers and other transit workers received."

Union leaders say roughly 65% of the officers who voted on Wednesday's offer gave the go-ahead to strike.

What happens next?

The city's transit agency has now enacted its contingency plan following the strike vote. Commuters will likely see a mix of local police and private security as SEPTA works to fill in the gaps on the city's subways, trolleys and buses. University police and Philadelphia School District officers will all be pitching in as well.

Supervisory transit police will be working extended shifts to provide a steady presence at terminals, transfer points, hot spots, and transit corridors. Private security guards will be assigned to locations as needed, with a focus on the Market-Frankford and Broad Street lines, and the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management will also provide logistical support.

"The law enforcement community in the city is a tremendous fraternity. They support each other. They have indicated to me they'll be here for us as long as we need them," SEPTA Police Chief Chuck Lawson said.

However, commuters are wondering if that'll be enough.

"Right now these els and subways, it's dangerous down there because you don't know who getting on and who getting off," Lonnie Brown, a senior citizen, told Action News.

JoAnne Ashley said she was trying to get all of her errands done before dark because she didn't want to be caught up on the transit system after dark. She said she felt like it was dangerous before transit officers were on strike and now her sense of fear is even more heightened.

"You have to watch people and it's sad but you have to watch yourself," Ashley said.

A SEPTA police officer told Action News that they work a unique job. They know the underground and said it is not easy to just temporarily plug in anybody.

"It's a totally different dynamic policing the city versus policing the transit system. It's a whole different dynamic, different clientele," Juliana said. "Be vigilant. Be careful. Go from point A to point B without being involved. It's a serious concern."

"There is a hurdle to get over here. We didn't anticipate this. Our wish is we can get our guys back in and obviously get back the negotiating table as quickly as possible," Lawson said.

Officials said 178 SEPTA officers are part of the transit union and have been working without a contract since March. The original strike deadline was November 20, but it was extended to December 13.

The union argues their hard work is displayed almost daily. Just Tuesday morning, a stabbing suspect was quickly caught at the 69th Street Terminal in Upper Darby. And in last week's stabbing at Macy's, SEPTA cameras helped Philadelphia police quickly catch the suspect.

SEPTA police officers said they hope this strike doesn't last long with Christmas just two weeks away, adding that they have bills to pay. The last strikes by SEPTA's transit police were called in 2019 and 2012.

"We're just looking to be appreciated and it seems like SEPTA doesn't want to appreciate us out here and the hard work we do," Juliana said.