‘This is on them’: SEPTA transit police to walk the picket line Thursday as contract negotiations stall

“[Safety is] paramount to us. But we're not here to get taken advantage of,” said union leadership following Wednesday’s strike vote.

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A SEPTA police officer stands on the platform of the Somerset stop

A SEPTA police officer stands on the platform of the Somerset stop on the Market-Frankford line. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The union representing SEPTA’s transit police officers voted 83 out of 124 to strike, according to Troy Parham, first vice president of the Fraternal Order of Transit Police Lodge #109.  SEPTA said the strike would not impact route operations and plans are in place to cover the patrol areas.

Parham said officers have been working without a contract since March, with the main issue being pay.

“[Rider safety is] paramount to us. But we’re not here to get taken advantage of. This is not our strike. This is a management strike. They know what it would’ve taken to keep us at work, and they know what it will take to get us back to work. The ball is in their court,” Parham said during a news conference following Wednesday’s vote.

SEPTA Spokesperson Andrew Busch said SEPTA had been notified of the strike around 7 p.m.

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“Our negotiating team is ready to go at any time,” Busch said. “We’re hopeful that maybe we can get a session with everybody back at the table, along with the state mediator who has been part of the talks. We’re hoping that we can get everyone back together tomorrow and try to make this strike as short as possible.”

In November, SEPTA said the union rejected an offer to increase wages by 13% over three years. The new contract was said to include a $3,000 signing bonus for each union member contingent on a strike not taking place, which is now off the board. The union reportedly rejected that proposal because it didn’t match one given to members of SEPTA’s Transport Workers Union during their contract negotiations last month.

But Parham said on Wednesday the union never saw that deal.

“The general manager put out several weeks ago to the media, to politicians, to all the employees of SEPTA that there is a three-year deal on the table which we rejected. That is false,” Parham said. “We’re still waiting to see that three-year deal. We still have not gotten a three-year deal. There is a 43-month deal on the table which we are not okay with … Effective immediately we are on strike.”

SEPTA has plans in place with Philadelphia Police and other local departments to fill in the gaps, according to Busch, with a specific focus on posts at the Market-Frankford Line, Broad Street Line, and Regional Rail hubs in Center City.

“It’s not a plan that we want to put into place and it’s not one that they could continue long-term,” Busch said. “But we do have to plan for any contingencies and make sure that we have the ability to continue to safely offer service to our customers and keep our stations open.”

But Parham clapped back Wednesday, arguing the plan “makes no sense.”

“Every police department is short and if they’re suggesting that they’re going to pay them overtime to do that, pay us,” he said.

Parham added that during his 24-year career, the union has “repeatedly” asked for binding arbitration to allow an arbitrator “to decide what’s a fair deal for police officers.” That way, strikes wouldn’t be on the table.

“They’re not interested in doing that,” Parham said. “They’d rather have us here.”

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Regional Rail unions have also authorized a strike, but in an interview with Busch in November, he said there isn’t an “imminent threat of a strike” that would impact service.

SEPTA police last went on strike in 2019, and before that in 2012.

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