Friday, July 10, 2009

Are Metro and the UnionTexting/Sleeping on the Job?

The last several weeks provide some really good insight in just how Metro and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, the "voice for transit workers in the nation’s capitol," appear to operate.
On the heels of the two embarrassing videos, Metro suddenly announced a "zero tolerance" policy regarding using cell phones while driving. Prior to the emergence of the videos, there was a three-strike policy.
First, a violator was suspended for 5 days, second, they got a 10-day suspension and finally, if they were so mind blowingly stupid as to do it again, they got the boot.
Had it not been for a couple of entrepreneurial passengers armed with video cameras, would the three strike policy have continued indefinitely? Who is in charge here? WMATA? The union?
The trains may now be in manual, but WMATA and the union seem to coast in cruise control until they're jolted to action by an outside force.
We asked Metro if they'd ever considered putting cameras in the operator cabins, and they said they had not, but that the union would certainly have a say something like that. So, it's certain the zero tolerance rule had to get the union's blessing, too.
We tried to contact union president Jackie L. Jeter twice to ask about the union's stance on cameras. We have yet to hear from her.
Now we hear from WTOP that Jeter said before the cell phone ban can take effect, Metro should enter into talks with the union about the poor communications equipment on board the trains. Wait a minute. Say what?
Is the next line in this argument going to be that operators need their cell phones as backup to Metro's communications gear? Are they all Verizon customers? Surely not.
Then is the zero tolerance policy is a bargaining chip? Sounds like Jeter is saying that Metro operators will cling the old ways until Metro agrees to talk about another issue altogether.
The union may have a point about the communications gear, but they should not tie it together with the texting ban. That is absurd and reckless.
Then again, Jeter is not unfamiliar with those concepts. On July 8, in an Examiner article about growing impatience with Red Line delays, Jeter said "I understand that you want to get to work a little sooner ... everybody should back off that. ... At least you're alive."
Can you believe there was ever any tolerance for texting or cell phone usage by an operator at the helm of a train carrying hundreds of people? Who at WMATA signed off on that? We'd love a transcript of that negotiation.
It appears that Metro and the union's “culture of safety” is nothing more than reactive, responding only when they have egg on their faces.
What other moronic policies are hiding in Metro's closet waiting for a YouTube video or worse to shed light on them?
We obviously aren't privy to Metro and the union's internal discussions, and from where we sit as normal Metro passengers, we're only able to report on what's visible: the accidents, breakdowns, foul ups and other absurd blunders.
Yet every once in a while, when Metro and the union are left with no choice but to act, there's a revealing flash of sudden policy changes, and we get a quick, illuminating glimpse into the core of how things work. It's not a pretty sight.

Other items:
Metro seeking input on X1, X2 and X3 routes (WMATA)
Takoma Stn. staying open tonight (WMATA)
City Paper take on Red Line rehab

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Anonymous said...

I think these texting/sleeping rail operators should go to jail, just like a DUI. They are risking the lives of hundreds. As tragic as the Ft. Totten crash was, it would have been 10-20 times deadlier if the collision was a northbound train. Also, why not remove the curtain and tinting from the operator's windows??

Anonymous said...

Also, there should be criminal charges for Metro leadership that gave priority to bonuses in lieu of safety upgrades urged by NTSB.

Anonymous said...

i cannot believe the callousness of the union prez. look, it's probably a pretty boring job to drive a subway, but it seems to be the union is a big part of the problem here.

Anonymous said...

Jeter - as a union person I know the loyalty we have to our fellow members. But your job is first and foremost customer service and safety, then job safety for your workers, then and only then union member privacy.

I believe in the working man, but every Metro rider is a working man or woman. Your loyalty is to us, not your job security.

Anonymous said...

Comment 1 - they are also putting Metro at risk for litigation and threatening safety improvements by undermining fiscal security. If they act negligently, I agree, charge them with reckless endangerment to send a message. (See Boston texting T driver for the perfect example of this).

Anonymous said...

As a member of Local 689 (but not a bus or train operator) the "union" has given "WMATA" a blank signed piece of paper for "WMATA" to add any rule they see fit. Sure there should be a zero tolerance rule in effect for bus and train operators but should this rule be equally in effect for employess working at a maintenance facility, while sitting at their desk, when personal, equipment and passenger safety IS NOT at risk.

You want better trains and buses, more compassionate operators and kiosk and station managers, because of these rules moral will continue to be at an all time low, effecting everyone.

Anonymous said...

The statement of the last poster is a perfect example of "union think". He doesn't understand that a company should make it's own rules. the union does NOT own WMATA.

And he has no concern for safety (clearly). Why should an employee is a non safety sensitive area be held to the same safety rules?

If morale is low because of this rule, employees don't get it. And the Union needs to get the message to them.

Letting employees do what ever they want regardles of safety and company rules will not meakes them more compassionate, just more reckless and rude, since they feel they can do anything they want. The Union protects their sorry a**es..

BTW, I AM a former bus operator and 689 employee.

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