This story originally appeared on 6abc.
A looming SEPTA Transit Police strike is in limbo Monday morning amid hope that one more set of talks could produce a deal to prevent officers from walking off the job.
The union set a midnight deadline for Sunday night, which came and went. However, officers put off a walkout and stayed on the job to see if union reps and SEPTA’s general manager could come to terms.
SEPTA Transit Police union leaders say SEPTA’s general manager has not been directly part of the negotiations, adding that they want to meet with her instead of those they’ve been dealing with.
SEPTA officials spoke with the union for nearly six hours on Sunday, but officials say they are still negotiating a potential agreement. Transit police have been working without a contract for the last seven months and say the main issue is pay.
SEPTA officials say they believe they are offering a fair deal that includes a signing bonus and a 13% pay increase over three years.
However, the transit police union president is not satisfied and says SEPTA hasn’t matched the pay and benefits it recently gave to members of the Transport Workers Union, which represents thousands of SEPTA employees outside the agency’s police force.
“There are organizations and corporations going on strike right now because workers are tired. They’re tired of being mistreated and so we want to make sure that those workers — those SEPTA police officers — are well treated, well paid and well resourced,” said commuter Keon Gerow, from Drexel Hill.
Action News spoke with Omari Bervine, the transit police union president, on Sunday night.
While Bervine said the union was negotiating with SEPTA, he says no real progress was made.
He also said transit police are dangerously low-staffed, which makes it difficult to keep passengers and employees safe.
Bervine says they are about 25% under their budgeted head count because officers are leaving to work in other departments that offer higher wages and benefits.
The transit police’s concern is that they will never reach a fully-staffed department if they remain among the lowest-paid police jobs in the area.
Commuters who spoke with Action News say they hope both sides reach an agreement so officers don’t walk off the job.
“People deserve to be paid right and have their workplace be a good environment, but also, I like to feel safe when I use SEPTA,” said Ava Scholl, from West Philadelphia. “Not having the police there would definitely be different.”
“More pay because their lives are at stake, so it could be something that’s dangerous that they have to encounter, so it’s important for them to get more pay. Pay for performance, so if you want them to perform better you got to pay them better,” added fellow commuter, Latrise Graves, from Germantown.
SEPTA officials told 6abc that they’re ready to return to negotiations.
While the transit police union can technically strike since they are past the deadline, the union president wants that meeting with the general manager before moving forward.
A SEPTA spokesperson said in a statement that they are optimistic they can reach a deal without a strike. Officials also said negotiators are available to talk around the clock.
If transit officers do walk off the job, SEPTA says it will call in mutual aid from other departments to cover. Officials also say there will be no impact on regular services.
SEPTA officials released the following statement Sunday night on the possible strike:
“SEPTA negotiators wanted to continue meeting through tonight and remain available around the clock. We urge union leadership to return to the bargaining table and allow police officers to remain on the job while we work out a new agreement.
There is an offer on the table from SEPTA that includes wage increases of 13% over three years, which is consistent with our contract agreements with other unions representing SEPTA frontline workers. The police contract would also include a $3,000 signing bonus for officers, although that is contingent on there not being a strike. There is also an additional $2,500 retention bonus for officers who are eligible for retirement, and it maintains generous health and retirement benefits. We hope FOTP leaders will return to the bargaining table soon so that we can get this deal finalized.
In the meantime, we have contingency plans ready to ensure safe and secure travel on the system. This would include patrols on SEPTA by PPD, State Police, and other police departments. We hope we will not need to enact these plans but will be ready if needed.”
Bervine gave Action News the following statement in response:
“After conferring with our Union’s Executive Board and seeing the statement from SEPTA that was sent to our officers by SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards this evening, we feel that it is imperative that she meet with us directly as there seems to be a disconnect in terms of what she is saying is being offered and what is actually being offered at the table. We will convey this request to Ms. Richards and her team formally tomorrow morning. We believe that her direct involvement will be crucial in helping us to achieve our goal of resolving our contract dispute without any disruption or work stoppage.”
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