SEPTA transit police poised to strike as talks continue

SEPTA transit police strike
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Transit police officers considered going on strike Monday, after a Fraternal Order of Transit Police deadline passed without significant progress toward an agreement with SEPTA, union officials said.

While a walk-out would not disrupt bus, subway, Regional Rail, trolley and other SEPTA service, it would weaken the law enforcement presence on transit and force the authority to shift police supervisors to patrol duties.

Negotiators met for several hours Monday, and FTOP Lodge 109 later presented the authority’s proposal to members. Union leaders planned to submit a counter offer to SEPTA early Monday evening, vice president Troy Parham said.

“We don’t have to strike today, and SEPTA knows what it will take to avert that,” he told Metro. “Does that mean we have to reach a whole agreement today? No, we don’t.”

No agreement was in place when Metro went to print, and FTOP had not yet called for a strike.

Parham said the union, composed of around 180 patrol officers, is willing to continue negotiations in the coming days, as long as there is movement on SEPTA’s side. Their current contract expired in March.

FTOP wants a deal with the same schedule of raises granted to Transport Workers Local 234, which is SEPTA’s largest union, representing about 5,000 drivers, mechanics and other employees.

Right now, authority administrators are offering a 13% increase over a 44-month period, while Local 234 got the same bump over 31 months, Parham said.

“You just gave your biggest union a whole piece of the sky,” he added. “You’re going to tell us you’re going to give us less than that? That’s not going to work for us. We would be the worst union in the world if we agreed to that.”

Omari Bervine is president of the local Fraternal Order of Transit Police.Metro file

Local 234 reached a one-year agreement late last month, and SEPTA’s board ratified the contract last month. Members are set to receive a 4% raise in December and another 3% in July, along with a $3,000 bonus.

The contracts for Local 234 and FTOP are structured differently, with officers receiving their most recent wage increase in March, SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch said. He told Metro the authority’s offer is on par with Local 234’s contract, which usually sets the standard for SEPTA’s other unions.

Busch also noted that SEPTA, in the middle of their contract, significantly increased base pay for officers in summer 2022. The move, an effort to retain officers and attract recruits, should not be considered at the bargaining table, Parham said.

If officers strike, SEPTA plans to send out about 50 police supervisors – who are not part of Lodge 109 – out on patrol, requiring them to work longer shifts with no days off, Busch said. The authority is also collaborating with the Philadelphia Police Department, college police and suburban law enforcement to boost patrols and respond to emergency calls.

“Those are certainly measures that we don’t want to have to put into place, and it’s not the type of thing that could go on long-term,” Busch said. “Those would only be temporary.”

City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, chair of the body’s transportation committee, in a statement late Sunday night, urged the sides to “continue to negotiate as long as it takes to avoid a strike.”

“A strike will erode public confidence in SEPTA’s ability to keep commuters safe,” he continued. “Hopefully a deal can be reached by both parties as soon as possible.”

FTOP members voted to authorize a walk-out in October, and, earlier this month, the union decided to designate Nov. 20 as a strike deadline, according to the Philadelphia Tribune.