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PHILADELPHIA -- Last-minute negotiations yesterday averted a threatened strike by SEPTA transit police - at least for the moment.
The 2 p.m. strike deadline passed about an hour after negotiators entered talks at SEPTA headquarters in Center City. Those talks - with U.S. Rep. Robert A. Brady on hand - continued until about 10 before ending for the night.
Anthony Ingargiola, spokesman for the 200-strong Fraternal Order of Transit Police, said the union had called in Brady, who has a history of being involved in such negotiations, to help broker a deal.
SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said, "They came back at 9 p.m. with a completely new set of proposals that were far more costly. Our response to them is we had to cost them out. . . .
"We will be ready to meet with them again at 9 [this] morning," he said.
The 2 p.m. strike deadline had been set to coincide with the police officers' shift change, but the evening shift went on duty without incident once talks resumed.
The talks continued against a backdrop of heightened concerns over rider safety following a fatal attack on a rider in March. And, with new general manager Joseph Casey touting SEPTA as newly customer-friendly, management hoped to avoid a walkout.
If transit police strike, their place in the subway concourses and stations will be taken by Philadelphia police officers, SEPTA supervisors, and private security guards.
Mayor Nutter assured passengers they would be safe, and James Jordan, SEPTA's assistant general manager for safety and security, said yesterday: "The bottom line is riders should see no difference."
The approximately 200 SEPTA transit officers, who have been without a new contract for 32 months, are seeking the same pay as officers in the Philadelphia Police Department, who start at about $39,000 a year.
The starting salary for a SEPTA police officer is $30,752 a year, with a maximum salary after four years of $49,804, including longevity payments.
SEPTA has offered its police a 3 percent annual wage increase over four years, a boost in longevity pay, and a requirement that police contribute 1 percent of their salary to help pay for health care.
The officers' last contract expired Sept. 30, 2005, and was extended for one year. The union membership has rejected three tentative agreements.
The union went to court on Wednesday seeking an order to compel SEPTA to take the contract dispute to binding arbitration. No hearing date has been set in Common Pleas Court.
At yesterday's City Council meeting, members Curtis Jones Jr. and Jack Kelly urged SEPTA to deal fairly with the union.
"We cannot afford even the perception" that the transit system would be unsafe in the event of a strike, Jones said.
Violent crime on the transit system, after years of decline, is up since 2004. On March 26, Sean Patrick Conroy, a 36-year-old Starbucks manager, collapsed and died after a group of high school students beat him at the 13th Street Station on the Market-Frankford Line. Five teens have been ordered to stand trial on charges of third-degree murder and conspiracy in that case. A sixth alleged assailant has not been charged.
Inquirer staff writers Jeff Shields and Suzette Parmley contributed to this article.