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SEPTA Worker Beaten by Gang; Union Calls for SEPTA Police Chief to Resign

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Transport Workers Union Calls for SEPTA Chief of Transit Police Thomas J. Nestel III to Resign or to be Removed ...The transit police are currently either unwilling or incapable of protecting SEPTA workers and riders, said Willie Brown, president of TWU Local 234. Violent attacks on SEPTA transit workers like  the one seen in the video have become an unacceptable daily occurrence.

PHILADELPHIA (March 18, 2021)– Transport Workers Union Local 234, the largest union representing transit workers at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), released a video today showing a track worker being beaten in an unprovoked attack by a violent street gang at Philadelphia’s 15th Street Station earlier this week. Watch the video here. Attacks of this nature have become a daily occurrence.

The union, which represents more than 5,000 SEPTA employees, says that the transit police are not properly protecting riders and transit workers. To help them, the union today called for the resignation of Thomas J. Nestel III, SEPTA’s transit chief of police.

“SEPTA’s slogan should be ‘hush, hush,’” said TWU Local 234 President Willie Brown. “SEPTA managers don’t want the public to know how dangerous the transit system has become. They think raising an alarm will chase away riders. What they don’t seem to understand is that riders will stay off the trains, trolleys and buses until they are made safe. It’s time to address this wave of violence.”

SEPTA’s transit police department is severely understaffed. Currently the force is budgeted to have 200 officers but employs just 120. Furthermore, under Nestel’s direction, police have been using a “catch and release” strategy, which means charges are not brought against individuals who assault workers and riders. 

“We have lost the subway,” Brown told public radio station WHYY this week, after it was announced that SEPTA will be temporarily closing Kensington’s Somerset Station along the Market-Frankford Line beginning March 21.

SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richard reported to the Philadelphia news media that the station would be closing for “maintenance and repairs.” The true reason is rampant crime, gangs and drugs, according to the union.

“This must stop now,” Brown said. “We need a police chief who will attack the problem and not let riders and transit workers be attacked. It’s nothing personal but Chief Nestel needs to go.”

SEPTA’s own data show that despite an 80% decline in ridership during the pandemic, assault rates for transit workers have not decreased. Transit workers believe that less crowded buses and stations make SEPTA’s workforce more vulnerable to violent crime.

“Women who are our members are scared to open the stations at 5 a.m.,” Brown said. “I’m tired of reports of our people being punched, kicked, beaten and robbed.”

Union leaders have proposed ways to reduce violence

The union has told SEPTA’s management that they should bring charges against gangs and individuals who assault transit employees. Those who have committed crimes on SEPTA property or against transit workers should be banned from riding SEPTA.

The union favors hiring more police and using security guards, a measure to which management has recently agreed.

The union also has advocated for better use of security cameras, already installed on buses and trains and mounted in stations. The union has advised that cameras could be monitored live. 

TWU Local 234 also has asked that photos and security camera images of those who perpetrate crimes against SEPTA workers be posted on public transit, distributed to the media, and combined with rewards for information leading to arrests.

The recently passed COVID relief bill passed by Congress will deliver additional funding to SEPTA. The union says some of this additional funding should be spent on improving security.

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TWU 234 represents more than 5,300 workers in the Philadelphia area, including workers at SEPTA and Upper Darby Municipal workers.  

press release