PHILADELPHIA (CBS) –-  SEPTA’s transit police walked off the job this afternoon with very little notice to management.

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SEPTA and the Fraternal Order of Transit Police were in negotiations early this afternoon when, at 1:40 p.m., the transit police announced a strike as of 2 p.m.

“We were given 20 minutes’ notice that they were going to go on strike,” says SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney. “Considering the security of the SEPTA system of Philadelphia, we don’t think that was fair warning.”

The two sides have been negotiating since before the last contract expired, nearly a year ago, and union spokesman Anthony Ingargiola says the union thought they were very close to an agreement.

“We had asked SEPTA to meet one final marginal condition and, in what seems like a dispute over a couple of quarters, SEPTA slapped our members in the face instead of giving them a fair contract,” he told KYW Newsradio this afternoon.

Ingargiola declined to provide details, but union sources said the dispute was over the pay rate for officers who received special certification training. They say the union wanted an additional 25 cents an hour for officers after training, and SEPTA’s offer was 15 cents.

The union says only $50,000 of expense separated the two sides, but neither side would budge.

Maloney, the SEPTA spokesman, says the transit agency wants to reassure the public about the safety of SEPTA’s rail, subway, and bus lines. He says that supervisors are on patrol, and Philadelphia Police have been made aware of the strike and are stepping in, focusing on the Broad Street and Market-Frankford lines, and at 69th Street Terminal and the Frankford and Olney Transportation Centers.

SEPTA Spokesman Richard Maloney and Deputy Commissioner Blackburn (credit: Cherri Gregg)

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SEPTA also released a statement that read, in part:

“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’s transit police officer union held a rally Wednesday evening, explaining why they went on strike.

Union President Richard Neal says they had no choice.

“At no time did we want to go on strike but SEPTA forced our hand to do what we had to do right now.”

The union says they already made concessions and they’ll get back to the table when they feel SEPTA is serious

There are more than 200 transit officers in the bargaining unit.

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