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Development & Transportation

PWSA Director Disputes Consultant Claim That A Fifth Of Field Staff Are On Disability

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
A Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority crew fixes a water main break in Lawrenceville in May 2017.

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority faces significant organizational issues—crumbling infrastructure, lead issues, steep debt—but soaring rates of short-term disability are not one of them, said interim executive director Bob Weimar.

At a public meeting Aug. 28, Infrastructure Management Group Inc.’s chairman Steve Steckler presented initial findings from his team’s evaluation of PWSA, and made a startling statement: one in five of the authority’s employees are out on short-term disability.

PWSA disputed that fact.

In an interview, Steckler amended his statement.

“The 20 percent short-term disability looks like it’s specific to the ... water distribution field staff,” he said, referring to the people responsible for fixing breaks and maintaining PWSA’s underground system of pipes.

That’s not true, said PWSA’s interim executive director Bob Weimar.

"Statistics like that tend to resonate. And I think it’s an unfortunate mischaracterization of the PWSA staff,” he said. “From my point of view, it needs to be retracted.”

Of PWSA’s 260 employees, which does not include contractors, nine are on short-term disability, said Weimar. Five of them are members of the field staff.

“I think it’s 3.5 percent of [field staff] are out on short-term disability. So why would we come up with 20 percent? I have no idea," Weimar said. 

Steckler said members of IMG’s team were told about short-term disability rates while conducting interviews with field staff, who were told their comments would remain anonymous.

IMG, Inc. was selected in April to advise a mayoral panel on options for restructuring PWSA; the state is also conducting an audit of the authority. Weimar said he welcomes the results of those inquiries, but has to focus on moving the authority forward in the meantime.

“We have to make do with what we have, and try to show the public that we do have the ability and we’re spending their money wisely,” he said. “If the political or institutional infrastructure feels that we should be dealt with in another way…that’s not for me to decide. But I can say that if given the opportunity, I think this organization can become at least as good as any in the country.”

On Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 3 p.m. in Pittsburgh City Council Chambers IMG, Inc. will make its second presentation. It is open to the public.