Everyone in this region seems to agree that Metro is at a breaking point and must get better for riders, workers and the communities the system serves. The good news is that we can save Metro by taking a series of bold actions that have improved other public transit systems around the country. The bad news is that if we fail to take action, the system is headed toward collapse.
Last Thursday, Washington Times opinion writer Deborah Simmons wrote a baseless article supporting the outsourcing and privatization of the DC Metro (WMATA) transit system.
In no uncertain terms, the members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689 want Metro to be a safe, affordable and reliable transit system, and we know that privatization won’t make that happen, which is why we oppose it. And we reach that conclusion based on the facts.
The DC Circulator is a glaring example of the failures of privatization. Just last August, the Transit Resource Center, an independent transit consulting firm, conducted an audit on Circulator buses and found that ninety-five percent of all the buses had at least one safety problem so significant that they should have been pulled from service, but were not. DC Circulator is managed by First Transit, a private operator.
The failures of privatizing public transit can also be seen around the country from Savannah, Georgia to Fairfield, California to Nassau County, New York. By looking at any of those jurisdictions, there is evidence that outsourcing public transit drives up fares, jeopardizes safety, results in service cuts, and fosters an environment for political corruption. But Ms. Simmons didn’t bother to let those facts get in the way of her position.
Ms. Simmons also took the opportunity to over-generalize the sentiments of ATU Local 689’s members by talking to a currently terminated employee and two members who were rejected by Local 689’s membership in their respective bids for elected positions with the union.
Local 689 represents more than 13,000 active and retired bus and rail operators, station managers, maintenance and clerical employees. Basing the attitudes of the union’s entire membership on the experiences of two rank and file members and a terminated employee is both irresponsible and unethical.
Metro is dealing with a historic number of challenges that need to be addressed with fierce urgency, but privatizing the system fails to address those challenges. In fact, it makes the challenges worse by transferring the responsibility of public safety to a private company whose bottom line is the profit. Ms. Simmons’ response to the issue is as irresponsible as those who fail to properly fund the system to keep it safe.
Jackie L. Jeter
ATU Local 689
Yesterday, in his testimony before the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB), Local 689’s Safety Officer James Madaras testified that adequate access to bathrooms is a serious issue for the system’s operators. For years, WMATA has been aware of the seriousness of the issue and has been slow to act on this and the lack of recovery time in runs.
An Open Letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser
Dear Mayor Bowser,
On Tuesday, March 17, 2015, the D.C. Council, with your recommendation, appointed Corbett Price, a financial consultant and so-called organizational change agent, to the Metro board replacing Tom Downs until the end of June of this year. For more than three decades, Price has built a reputation as an anti-worker, union-busting, slash-and-burn executive consultant who puts profits over people and public welfare.
The deadly smoke incident at L’Enfant Plaza Metro station on January 12, 2015 shook the entire DMV region. It has also exposed that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has woefully neglected its commitment to a safety culture that can save the lives of riders and workers. The cornerstone of a safety culture for Metro should be an environment where Metro employees feel empowered and welcome to identify accidents and potential hazards. WMATA leadership continues to fail miserably at cultivating this environment.
The investigation into exactly what happened on January 12 is still in progress and our union will respect the independence of that investigation. But, what we do know now, is that since the Red Line accident of 2009 that took nine people’s lives, Metro has failed to invest in the emergency training that all employees need on a consistent basis. Instead, our members, who are the operators, maintenance and clerical employees of WMATA, have been discouraged from reporting unsafe conditions and even suspended. Management seems to feel the need to discipline rather than instruct, guide and support. But, management will never be able to discipline its way to a safety culture. The fact that any employee should fear how management might react if an employee makes a report on a safety concern is unacceptable and dangerous! Unfortunately, for hundreds of our members, this is the reality that they face every day.
On behalf of the more than 12,000 active and retired members of ATU Local 689, the union sends our heartfelt condolences to the passenger who passed away on the Metro rail train Monday evening at L’Enfant Plaza. We also wish a speedy recovery to all those who were injured in that fire.
Our union is committed to safe and reliable transportation for all Metro riders and employees. We will continue working with WMATA leadership and the National Transportation Safety Board on a full investigation on the cause of this incident.
Over the last several months we, the active membership of Local 689, have become divided and polarized over the new Disciplinary Guidelines Matrix that is being introduced by WMATA. The Matrix is set to go into effect on January 1, 2015. Everybody is angry --- and understandably so. But, for a moment, let’s set our internal displeasure aside and focus on the real adversary responsible: WMATA.
Let me use this space to address a few misconceptions:
· Management doesn't have to discuss any policy that they want to implement for their workforce with the Union in accordance with Section 102 of our Contractual Bargaining Agreement. As the union that represents those hired by WMATA, we have the right to object to the policy through the grievance process if we think that it is not fair. In this case, that is what we have done. We have already filed a class action grievance based on the fact that infractions given under another policy are now being incorporated into the new Disciplinary Matrix. That class action grievance is for the entire work force, not just bus operators.
· ATU Local 689 has NOT agreed to the Matrix. The Union has NOT negotiated with the Authority to develop the Matrix.
· The Union does NOT set discipline for any Authority policy until and unless we file a grievance and take it to arbitration or negotiate a settlement of the grievance.
· Not all policies of the Authority fall off your record after 365 days. For example, the right turn on red lights stays on your record for 2 years.
· The policies negotiated by the Union and the Authority are NOT a part of the Matrix. The Accident Policy, the Absenteeism Policy (sick & miss points), and the Drug and Alcohol Policy (EAP/SAP) were negotiated. Of the policies that were negotiated, only the Attendance Reporting Policy and the Accident Policy have the 365 day drop off. They were negotiated using the same process that we are using now through the grievance procedure.
This Matrix has caused such a stir that we are turning on ourselves. This does not help us! We can’t agree on a strategy or a plan of action if we are at each others’ throats. So let’s talk about what has happened thus far....
July 27, 2014: Bus Operations Management and Labor Relations requested a meeting with the Union where they presented their portion of the authority wide Disciplinary Guidelines Matrix. They explained how it was suppose to be instituted and who it would effect. Management also explained that what we were seeing was the draft for operations but every other department would be following with their own rule infractions that would be included in the Disciplinary Guidelines Matrix. At that meeting we voiced our general disagreement with the Matrix as a policy but agreed to meet again on August 12th.
August 12, 2014: We wanted to take action instead of just sitting and listening. We wanted to be able to prevent them from saying that they met with the union twice for procedure sake. We looked at 6 months of write ups for Bus Operations and Rail Operations to gauge exactly the type of infraction, the location where write ups occurred, and the extent of all write ups such as terminations verses suspensions, interviews/re-instructions verses cautions/reprimands. We also looked at the write ups that did not contain the operators signature, contained a typed date verses the actual date that the employee signed the infraction, were outside of the 20 days, and ones where operators agreed to use vacation verses suspension. We found quite a few of those mentioned above.
Although some union reps have tried to use the records review as a negative being perpetrated against the employees, there are instances that it is to our benefit to know what is in our record, why it is there and if it was issued properly by management. And although management argued the disparaging imbalance of discipline as their reason for the system-wide Disciplinary Guidelines Matrix, their position was not proven by the write ups on the bus operations side. Most of the write ups resulted in a caution, with very few second offenses.
At the August 12th meeting, we strongly reiterated our argument. We had four things that we did not agree with:
1) Just like when every other system-wide policy was initiated, every employee's record, which included any of the items on the matrix, must be wiped clean because that discipline was given under another disciplinary policy and for lack of another term, it would be double discipline;
2) We believe that disciplinary penalties should not stay on an employee's record for three (3) years;
3) Progressive discipline does not begin with a suspension, it begins with a written warning or a caution because it has been proven in numerous studies that excessive discipline doesn't get employees to follow rules; and
4) Violations should not be co-mingled with other infractions. This could become a slippery slope that could be exploited by Management.
We had several follow up meetings with Bus Operations but nothing was changed concerning our displeasure with the policy. We finally received the draft for Maintenance and Construction, and at that time we were told that they would draft the Authority-wide policy. It is still a draft policy; we are waiting for the final signed policy by the General Manager to make it official. As of the writing of this article December 19th, it still has not been signed or put into formal policy form.
Now, let's talk about what the union intentions are with the Disciplinary Guidelines Matrix. There is so much misinformation being given out by Management and others to our members that our biggest problem is that we talk about what we think is the policy and how it will be implemented but we really don't know for sure. We are also not doing our due diligence and reading our contracts, operating by the SOP's, and most importantly, reading and knowing the SOP's in order to know how to protect ourselves from unfair rules and regulations. Every Local 689 member has a duty to not become complacent and make sure they know their rights inside and out. Management will push their limits and YOUR job, as a member, is to make sure they are caught when they cross that line!
Right now we need your trust! This new policy is about all 9,500 active members hired by WMATA. This is going to take us educating ourselves about policies and procedures, about WORKING TO THE SOP’s. This is not about the rules. Most of these rules have always been in place. I don’t mean that you should not sign the overtime list or the extra board. I’m asking you to do the job that you were hired to do, by the procedure that is laid out by the Authority, in the SOP’s. I’m asking you to come to the union meeting to get your information and our next actions. WE CAN DO THIS! We have fought Authority-wide policies in the past and we can do so again but it will take us not fighting each other and working in unison to reach a goal.