Friday, July 17, 2009

Making Catoe Look Good

It would take months, maybe years, for the most seasoned PR professional to attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of Metro GM John Catoe.
But just when you think it couldn't get any worse for the beleaguered GM, along comes a gift from heaven--someone who actually makes Catoe look, well, OK.
For all his faults, Catoe usually at least SAYS the right thing when a microphone is shoved in his face.
You can’t really say the same for Jackie Jeter, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, the union that represents Metro operators.
In a span of days, Jeter has pretty much alienated any riders who may have had residual sympathy for the union.
First, in response to passenger frustration with continuing Red Line delays, she said we were lucky to be alive.
Second, she appeared to want to use the ban on cell phone use as a bargaining chip for getting Metro to install better communications gear.
Now, in response to increased public interest in what bus and train operators are actually doing behind the wheel given the videos and photos that have surfaced, Ms. Jeter tells WTOP "Being watched 24/7 is a problem. I don't think any of us would like that. And I ask (riders) to respect the operators and the jobs that they do."
If this some kind of elaborate plot to make Catoe actually look pretty good in comparison, it’s working.
Hey Jackie, we know bartenders who deal with having their every move on camera "24/7," and they're only responsible for pouring drinks and handling a little money!
When you say stuff like that, Jackie, you only make riders more adversarial.
Your best bet: Stop talking, and if your operators do their job like they're supposed to--most do--this will all blow over.

Other items:
Metro seeks outside help (WTOP)
Catoe regrets continuing delays (WaPo)
Metro meeting with vendors to finally install backup (WaPo)
Profile of Deborah Hersman of the NTSB (WaPo)
Metro growing tired of NTSB (WTOP)

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Ken said...

Jackie Jeter is an embarrassment to WMATA and the very union she represents. She'd get alot more support if she were sympathetic to the public and tried to corral public support to improve working conditions for her union... instead she tells us we're "lucky to be alive" and not to watch her employees when they're goofing off.

At a desk job, employers monitor email and terminate employees for personal misuse/abuse of the internet or phone during time we should be working. How is that any different than taking a personal call when an operator should be driving or train? Or texting?

Metro's management and union representation is an utter joke. I would not recommend WMATA to anyone working in DC and I would tell visiting friends to rent a car before riding the Metro. The Metro doesn't care about its riders, and it shows.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that Jackie Jeter shouldn't be responsinding to these questions at all. I'm posting this message from my computer ath the Amalgamated Transit Union International offices in Friendship Heights, off Wisconsin Ave.

Our International President, Warren George, has completely absolved himself of any involvement in the matter. We generally direct locals to funnel calls through the communications department here at the International, but for some reason, we've refused to do that despite this being a PR nightmare occurring in our own backyard.

Cut Jackie some slack. She's a pretty sharp lady, but she's also a bus driver who rose through the ranks. She's not college educated, and certainly never had any proper training on how to deal with the media. She's a hardworking lady who works hard for her membership--what she was voted into office to do.

Direct your wrath at my employer, not the local.

Let's get Metro Fixed said...

Thanks for the interesting post.
Had wondered why she was fielding questions.
Would be interested to hear more about your views of WMATA.

Anonymous said...

Local 689 is one of our largest and most influential local unions. Along with Local 241 in Chicago and 1181 in New York, they're the public face of our 200,000 member union.

689 has been around forever. The membership is very proud of its history, and deservedly so. They've fought for decades for a contract that affords them basic workplace protections, a living wage and adequate benefits. Their contract is one of the top agreements in the nation.

Unfortunately, there are a small number of WMATA employees that take their union protections for granted. We always make it clear to new employees that union membership isn't a license to slack off; unfortunately, this concept is lost on a very small number of employees. As it is, it only takes one person to make a mockery of the situation others have fought so hard create.

When it comes to issues of operator conduct, such as cell phone usage, Jackie Jeter's job as President/Business Agent of the local is to fight to protect her membership. I understand why it seems callous to use an incident of operator misconduct to bargain for contract gains, but really, that's what she's there for. 689 didn't earn their contract by concerning themselves with their public image. If Jackie were to openly criticize any member of the local--even in a broad generalization--it would likely cost her her job come the next election.

And again, the vast, vast majority of Metro operators--in both the rail and bus divisions--are extremely responsible individuals who value their jobs, and place an absolute emphasis on passenger safety and adhering to protocol. Local 689 represents nearly 11,000 employees at WMATA, and 99.9% of those employees are just as appalled as you and I at the recent instances of operator misconduct.

Anonymous said...

Local 689 has done a good job over the years in terms of contract negotiations and protecting (some members) rights. But, I'd like to point out that the Union protects employees who have NO BUSINESS operating trains and buses, and dealing with the public.

Metro Management has been forced to rehire (and give back pay to) incompetent dangerous employees. Why? Because they have lost arbitations based on procedural errors.

The Union is more interested in focusing on those errors than in protecting the riding public from dangerous union member actions.

Why was the operator who caused the crash at Woodley Park rehired? Because management took more than 20 days to investigate. Insane! NTSB was involved and there's no way the investigation could be done in less than 20 days.

Employees have been rehired after attacking customers, opening doors off the platform, hitting pedestrians with buses, etc.

Why would a union protect these people?

Let's get Metro Fixed said...

would be interested in hearing more about this

Anonymous said...

I'm not the anonymous WMATA person, I'm an active duty military officer with installation management experience, and I might be able to offer some insight here...
It's not unusual for a well-intentioned bargaining argreement between an employer and a union, in any field, not just the transportation sector, to have resasonable-sounding procedural protections built into them. For example, a requirement that an offense must be acted upon by management within a resonable length of time, say, 20 days, so that many minor greivances can't be ignored over time, accumulate to the point of "the last straw", and then unfairly be dredged up and aggregated into a single action to target an undesirable employee - but as the poster points out, in this case NTSB ws involved, and they are not bound by (and possibly couldn't comly with) the 20 day restriction in the transportation union agreement. A reasonably competent attorney will exploit this on behalf of the under-performing employee and get the case thrown out, and voila! The bus driver who caused a crash is required to be hired back with back pay in order to comply with the bargaining agreement - the employer literally has no choice, because if they try to do the "right" thing, they'd go to court and be forced to hire the driver back anyway. I don't sympathize with METRO here, but I've seen similar situations in employee labor relations matters in the Department of Defense, and I'm sure it happens everywhere. The idea behind emplyee-labor relations agreements is sound, but there will always be loopholes that are meant to protect the well intentioned emplyer and employee from exploiting one another, but will instead be perverted to do just the opposite. Writing fair, consistent, enforceable policy is a very difficult and underappreciated art.

Anonymous said...

Wow! What have we here?

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