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Union Pushes School Bus Driver to Retirement

After losing his wife 15 months ago, Phil Vecchio was glad he still had his job as a school bus driver to keep him busy. He wanted to keep working even though he was approaching retirement age–it was what kept him going. But then he got tired of how the union made his workplace a hard place to be, so he chose to retire.

Starting in 1977, Phil drove for a private bus company in Manhattan. He also worked in other positions in school transportation, including as a dispatcher and a trainer. The Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), a New York union that represents state and local government employees, was Phil’s workplace representative at his most recent job.

“I’m well aware of the CSEA and their history of doing a bad job for their members,” said Phil. “My wife worked in a library, and they kicked the CSEA out because they were horrible.”

Phil did not initially join the union because he was frustrated with its poor representation, but he later joined so he could serve on a committee to try to make things better. When that didn’t work, Phil and other employees started talking about trying to bring in a different union.

CSEA got word of the potential uprising and so they sent a representative to tell the employees they would lose everything if they signed with a new union—which is not true. That scared enough people off, he said.

“I tried to tell CSEA’s district president at the time that she, or a representative, should come around every once in a while to talk to the drivers, and that she should talk to the supervisors to ask them what problems we were having. She said she didn’t have enough staff to do that,” he said.

Later, after his wife passed away, Phil was encouraged by his co-workers to run for a union leadership position. He agreed to run for vice president with a slate of other candidates. But as he got closer to the election, he realized the person running for president had a much different view of how the union should be run, and he wanted to back out.

“He said he wanted to ‘seek and destroy’ the other committee. These are people we work with, and I didn’t like how he was talking about them,” said Phil.

After contacting CSEA district leadership about his concerns, he was told it was too late to back out, and that he would have to resign from the vice presidency if he won. He did win, and he did resign–both from his position as vice president and from the union.

“That was it,” he said. “They didn’t want to know me.”

Later that year, he had an issue with management and the union refused to back him up, even though Phil was not allowed to go find outside help to resolve the issue because CSEA served as his exclusive representative.

On what was his first birthday in 48 years without his wife, Phil wasn’t feeling well. He ended up going out on his route anyway. After dropping the kids off at school, he was told a student left a backpack on the bus. He brought the backpack to the bus yard, but his supervisor berated him. So, he brought the backpack to the school and said he would be going home for the day.

When he went in to work the next day, the supervisor gave him a three-day suspension for “job abandonment” and “insubordination”—without any written notice or time to produce representation, violating his civil service rights. The union refused to help him when he challenged the suspension.

“It didn’t matter if I was in or out of the union, they made things worse for me at work, so I was done,” he said.

Eventually the superintendent removed the suspension from his record and gave him three days back pay, but with his employer and his union working together to make his work life more difficult, Phil didn’t want to stay on with the district.

“I don’t need this. I have enough stress in my life, especially after losing my wife,” he said. “You’re not supposed to discriminate against people, you’re supposed to represent everyone.”

Since he retired, several drivers have called to ask for his assistance with union issues.

“The union is making it harder to retain bus drivers,” he said. “They are not doing anything to keep the current bus drivers happy or driver assistants either. It’s all because of CSEA, they are non-existent in our building.”

Suzanne Bates

Suzanne Bates is Senior Writer and Researcher with Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector workers offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Prior to joining Americans for Fair Treatment in 2020, Suzanne worked as a journalist for the Associated Press, as Policy Director with the Yankee Institute, as a contributor for The Hartford Courant, and as a regular commentator for WNPR’s The Wheelhouse.