We provided firsthand insight into the SafeTrack program and the challenges that are facing the WMATA in the near and distant future. ATU told the committee that for years, Local 689 has been advocating for major changes in the way WMATA does business. We have repeatedly asked WMATA to provide front line employees with the tools and materials necessary to do their jobs, and we’ve raised concerns about getting preventative maintenance done ahead of time, instead of kicking the can down the road year after year. The reality is that if work had been done over the past twenty years, WMATA would not be disrupting the lives of people in this region in the way they have these past six months. Unfortunately, SafeTrack is what riders of this region are left with after decades of mismanagement and neglect.
During the hearing, Members of Congress asked us questions that we were required to answer for the record. Specifically, we were asked to provide information about coercion and intimidation by WMATA management in the track safety department. Also, we were asked to provide four ideas to fix WMATA, including one thing that Local 689 would do.
In our response, we cleared up misconceptions and put blame for WMATA’s problems exactly where it should be: on the management side. Noting that over the past 13 years, eleven WMATA employees have lost their lives, we told the committee that we literally have skin in this game! We have a personal reason to need to change the systemic unsafe culture that is felt throughout this company.
Most importantly, we stated that the system and framework put in place by WMATA’s management team in track maintenance not only invites but also authorizes and in some cases, mandates incorrect information to be logged in on inspection forms. On the battlefield, there are Generals and there are Privates. When the commanding officer issues an order, subordinates are required to fall in line. WMATA management is putting our riders’ lives in jeopardy every time that they board a train!
As far as improving WMATA is concerned, we said that he most important thing that we as frontline workers can do to ensure public safety is to speak out. If WMATA supervisors will not come forward with information that is critical for the safety of the riding public, we will. Silence can get people hurt or killed. ATU Local 689 pledges to educate our members on the whistleblower laws that protect transit workers and encourage them to speak out about safety hazards on both the bus and rail side. Since 9/11, our passengers have been constantly told that when they “see something” they should “say something.” Transit workers should be just as vigilant, even when speaking out requires courage.
Standing with riders
We also talked about standing with our passengers by rejecting the proposed service cuts and fare increases. Laying off 1,000 employees – once again shedding sorely-needed institutional knowledge and putting a huge burden on a shell of a workforce – is not only ill-advised but also dangerous.
Through its slash and burn budget proposal, Metro is using the self-inflicted SafeTrack crisis to justify massive cuts in service that would never be accepted in this region under normal circumstances. Metro riders need to call them out, letting them know that we need more, not less service.