May 26, 2010
By Anthony Campisi
SEPTA general manager Joe Casey dropped by a meeting of the Citizen Advisory Committee Tuesday night to talk about state and regional transportation issues.
The wide-ranging discussion touched on everything from the planned implementation of a new smart card fare collection system to the financial fallout of the state’s failed bid to toll Interstate 80.
In responding to a series of questions about labor issues, Casey appeared to paint an unflattering picture of SEPTA management’s relationship with the authority’s unions.
He said he wants “different union leadership” to emerge from union elections this year. Officials who would be more amenable to working cooperatively with SEPTA management.
(Though Casey didn’t specify which of the 17 unions representing SEPTA workers he was referring to, spokeswoman Jerri Williams later said that the only union holding elections this year is Transport Workers Union Local 234. Local 234 is SEPTA’s largest union and represents city bus, subway and trolley operators. The union went on strike last year after a breakdown in contract negotiations.)
Casey also responded to a question from a CAC member concerning lawsuits filed against SEPTA as a result of vehicle collisions and other issues.
The CAC member, who also does consulting work for SEPTA, said that he has noticed an increasing number of SEPTA workers toeing the union line in describing incidents instead of providing a complete and accurate depiction of events — especially for larger court cases involving buses and trolleys.
Casey attributed the increase to upcoming union elections.
He also said that the incident report of SEPTA bus driver Nikita Manfra was written by someone other than Manfra and suggested “union” involvement.
While operating along the Market-Frankford El NiteOwl route last month, Manfra reported an unconscious passenger to superiors. She was told her to continue her run, and the passenger was later found dead from heart failure and a drug overdose. The incident garnered significant media attention (http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local-beat/Man-Dies-on-SEPTA-Bus-Driver-Finishes-Route-90748409.html).
When asked today for additional comment Wednesday, Casey denied having indicated that SEPTA and its unions had poor relations.
He said that he didn’t intend to call for new leadership at TWU Local 234 and that his statement was in response to a comment from a CAC member, who said management and labor unions generally worked better together in previous decades.
“Our relationship with the union … still continues to be very cooperative and on a very professional level, and that hasn’t changed,” Casey said, adding that he will work with any leadership team that emerges from the elections and did not mean to indicate a preference for any slate of potential candidates.
Casey also said his comments weren’t meant to indicate agreement with the CAC member about union involvement in lawsuits against the authority.
“I might have nodded my head … [but] didn’t necessarily agree” with the CAC member’s assertion Casey said, adding that he was just speculating.
Though Casey said that “I think the union might be making their preference a little more notable in the field” because of the upcoming elections, he added that he has no evidence the unions are interfering in any way in court cases or that SEPTA workers are being anything but cooperative with SEPTA’s legal team.
He did, however, say that Manfra’s incident report “wasn’t ad libbed.”
Casey said the report was handed in several hours after the incident and was “perfectly formed,” written without the kinds of grammatical errors and crossed-out words that usually accompany such reports.
He also said that the report, which was confidential, was leaked to the press by someone other than Manfra.
TWU Local 234 president Willie Brown didn’t respond to requests for comment.