SEPTA Police officers walked off the job and onto the picket line on Wednesday. Police sources tell NBC10 Investigator Harry Hairston that contract talks fell apart at the bargaining table and a strike was called. The officers have been working without a contract since April 2011.
The officers are members of the Fraternal Order of Transit Police, Local 30.
The breakdown happened around 1:30 p.m. Within 20 minutes, SEPTA Police had all officers called off their jobs to meet at SEPTA Police headquarters to get their assignments of where they would go picketing.
SEPTA Police officers held a rally at 5:30 p.m. in Center City. They began gathering around 4 p.m. to picket in front of SEPTA headquarters on 15th and Market.
"At no time did we want to have to go on strike, but SEPTA forced our hand to do what we had to do right now," said Rich Neal of the Fraternal Order of SEPTA Police.
The Union says it wants a $.50 per hour increase for training certification for its officers, which would cost a total of $200,000 per year.
"I think it's not in SEPTA's best interest to allow a strike to go on much longer," said Anthony Ingargiola, a spokesman for the SEPTA Police Union.
SEPTA management held a news conference on Wednesday and assured passengers they would be safe and secure during the strike. A contingency plan has been put into place calling for aid from both SEPTA management and Philadelphia Police to make sure all SEPTA properties and stations are covered.
"We do not anticipate this labor action will affect any transit operations whatsoever," said Richard Maloney of SEPTA. "In the city, in the suburbs and underground all our systems will be operating normally."
"An additional police presence will be two sergeants and 24 police officers that will work the hours between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. focusing on school dismissal times as well as rush hour traffic," said Philadelphia Police Deputy Commissioner William Blackburn.
SEPTA officials also say they've hired 20 additional guards from a private firm to help fill the 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. shifts and the 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shifts. SEPTA also says the police officers will be paid overtime.
In spite of this, some passengers say they are still worried.
"We definitely need our SEPTA cops," said one resident. "I think it's going to be very dangerous. From getting their phones stolen, their iPhones taken, purses stolen, I've seen a couple fights happen on the L and I've almost been in the middle of a few of them. It's kind of scary."
SEPTA released the following statement regarding the strike:
SEPTA was notified early this afternoon by Fraternal Order of Transit Police that SEPTA police officers would go out on strike as of 2:00 pm this afternoon.
While SEPTA management was hoping to negotiate a new contract without a strike, we have implemented a contingency plan to deal with this situation.
We do not anticipate this labor action will affect any transit operations or service.
SEPTA has hired a private firm to provide security at our major transit facilities, beginning tomorrow.
We have an agreement with the Philadelphia Police Department to immediately begin periodic checks of our stations and vehicles 24 hours a day, with an increase presence at our key stations during school dismissal between 2:00 pm and 6:00 pm and during rush hour.
We have also notified the area police departments who cover the SEPTA transit system region-wide --- including Temple, Upper Darby, Amtrak, University of Pennsylvania and PATCO.