SEPTA transit police on strike

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

As of Wednesday afternoon, SEPTA transit police are on strike.

SEPTA says they were surprised, but they still had a plan in place just in case transit officers went on strike.

Allied Barton Security will start Thursday and police in Philadelphia and the surrounding municipalities will continue their efforts to keep riders safe.

Philadelphia Police were visible at SEPTA stops and transportation hubs just hours after transit police went on strike.

"That makes me really nervous, especially because I take the train kind of late," said Brittany Ruddock.

219 transit officers have been working without a contract for a year and their union has been in negotiations

"We hope the city and SEPTA learn that we're reasonable, we're willing to make a compromise; we've shown that through these negotiations, our willingness to give up ground to get a settlement," Fraternal Order of Transit Police spokesman Anthony Ingargiola said during a news conference.

"We feel as though the actions on the part of SEPTA, and in some ways the inaction of SEPTA, to take the opportunity to settle this matter forced us to use the only tactic that we had to our disposal which is job action." Ingargiola said.

During a Wednesday afternoon news conference of their own, SEPTA wouldn't go into detail about exactly why negotiations failed, but Action News has learned the sticking point has been pensions.

"SEPTA was notified earlier this afternoon by the Fraternal Order of Transit Police that SEPTA police officers would go on strike at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon," SEPTA Director of Public Affairs Richard Maloney said.

"We were given 20 minutes notice. 20 minutes," he added.

Ingargaiola calls the notion that SEPTA was caught off guard as "balderdash."

He says that an agreement on 50 cents an hour or a total of approximately $200,000 a year would have wrapped up negotiations today.

President of the Fraternal Order of Transit Police Richard Neal says the union and SEPTA were in negotiations for approximately two hours Wednesday.

"SEPTA was not willing to take our last and final best offer which led to this job action. In no time did we want to go on strike, but SEPTA forced our hand to do what we have to do right now," Neal said.

Maloney, meanwhile, says while SEPTA management hopes to negotiate a new contract without a strike, they've implemented a contingency plan to deal with this situation.

"While today's action was a surprise and unfortunate and unnecessary, they gave us very little time, we had a plan that was ready and we implemented immediately," Maloney said.

Maloney says SEPTA has hired a private firm Allied Barton to provide security at their major transit facilities beginning tomorrow and additional services will be provided by the Philadelphia Police Department.

"We have an agreement with the Philadelphia police to immediately begin the periodic checks of our stations," Maloney said.

"Additional police presence will be two sergeants and 24 police officers that will work the hours between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m focusing on school dismissal times, as well as rush hour traffic," Deputy Police Commissioner William Blackburn said.

Blackburn says Philadelphia police will be covering 24 sites with 11 of the sites on the Broad Street Line and 13 of the sites on El stops.

"In addition to that we have learned that our entire workforce, our entire patrol force that we will make frequent unscheduled checks for all buses and critical sites throughout the strike," Blackburn said

Since the strike began, Blackburn says police have been stationed at those critical sites.

"We've been planning for a couple days in anticipation if this was to happen...we've been aware that there was some type of possibility that if this was to happen, these were the sites," Blackburn said.

Blackburn says this will have no effect on police staffing.

"We're confident that the critical sites are covered. We are confident we have sufficient staffing. We are confident that the entire workforce of the Philadelphia Police Department is on alert," said Blackburn.

SEPTA has notified other area police departments who cover the SEPTA transit system including university, suburban, AMTRAK, and PATCO departments.

"We do not anticipate this labor action will affect any transit operations whatsoever, in the city, in the suburbs, underground; all our systems will be operating normally," Maloney said.

SEPTA has also hired private security firm Allied Barton, who will provide 40 guards.

"We're not making a statement on the quality of those individuals or their commitment to provide public safety, we're just stating the fact that the math doesn't add up," said Ingargiola.

"It's a shame they couldn't come to an agreement, but at the end of the day, safety is going to take a hit and the people who are probably going to suffer are again the customers, so it's bad business," Greg Norton.

The cost for Philadelphia Police overtime and Allied Barton will be paid by SEPTA, but the estimate was not released.

Both sides say they are willing to go back to the table, but don't know how long that will take.

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