SEPTA police officers continue to fight for employee benefits
The officers' recent strike leaves some students concerned about their safety on public transit
March 22, 2012, 11:31 pm · Updated March 26, 2012, 12:45 am·
SEPTA officers continued negotiations with their employers last night, after a strike that broke out near City Hall on Wednesday.
Two hundred nineteen SEPTA police officers are members of the Fraternal Order of Transit Police — an independent police union in Pennsylvania. The strikers’ demands included an hourly wage raise in light of a new training certification program that would cost SEPTA $200,000 a year, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Thomas Merceir, a SEPTA police officer and FOTP member, said he can’t give details on the terms of the negotiation between FOTP and SEPTA management, but that there was a contract that was “broken down.”
“SEPTA’s been dragging out this contract for a while with us. We had a factfinder come in a few months ago and do an evaluation on both of our sides and he gave us a report. We accepted it, but SEPTA rejected it. From that point on, we were still negotiating the contract,” he said.
A previous contract between the two organizations had expired March of last year, and they have been in negotiations ever since, said SEPTA Director of Media Relations Jerri Williams.
“Then yesterday, [the FOTP strikers] gave us 20 minutes notice that they would be striking at 2 p.m.,” she said. Williams saw a group of police officers holding signs in front of SEPTA headquarters, located at 1234 Market St.
Forty-five police supervisors and captains who did not strike implemented their three-part contingency plan.
“Although we thought the possibility of them striking was low, it was still a possibility,” Williams said.
Wharton freshman Christina Hardison rode SEPTA yesterday and saw the strike.
“It kind of makes me feel unsafe since I know SEPTA can be shady. But I’m not uncomfortable to the point where I’ll stop riding SEPTA,” she said.
“Unless there’s a huge spike in crime, I won’t be too worried. But I don’t think that’s likely,” she said.
The Philadelphia Police Department has agreed to make periodic checks on SEPTA stations and vehicles within city limits, Williams said. They also agreed to dispatch an increased presence of officers at SEPTA key stations and transit hubs between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. — school dismissal time and rush hour.
In addition, SEPTA has signed a contract with AlliedBarton stating that 20 AlliedBarton members will work 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., and another 20 will work 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. — all based at key stations and transit hubs, according to Williams.
She added that SEPTA has already notified Penn Police, Temple, Upper Darby, Amtrak and Port Authority Transit Corporation of the strike so that they can plan accordingly.
Penn’s Division of Public Safety spokeswoman Stacy Ritchey wrote in an email that “Penn, Philadelphia, and SEPTA police departments work closely together daily … We are working with SEPTA police department commanders to cover SEPTA stops in our patrol zone to ensure the highest levels of security for the community.”
College freshman Martina Merlo said she is not comfortable hearing about the police going on strike.
“I feel very uncomfortable with that, especially having lived in Philly almost my whole life, knowing that crime was around the corner even in the broad daylight in my own neighborhood,” she said, adding that she is glad for Penn security around campus.
Similarly, College freshman Julia Sigman said, “If there aren’t more police being brought in to compensate for the ones on strike then it makes me a little more nervous.”
“We usually do not discuss what we are negotiating; we leave the discussion for SEPTA management and the union. But I can tell you in a broad sense that it had to do with pension,” Williams said.
Richard Neal Jr., president of the Fraternal Order of Transit Police, told the Inquirer, “We do not want to be on strike … We want to get back to what we do the best and that’s fighting crime.”