Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Who do you Believe?

The following was posted on the ATU 689 website in response to this post.
The Truth behind Escalator Outages
By Jackie Jeter
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 President

When angry with Metro, blame the union. That seems to be the default position or maybe even the first line of action for Metro cynics who don’t care about facts. The latest baseless rant comes from Kathryn Ciano. In a blog posted in The Washington Examiner, Unsuck DC’s Metro and OpenMarket.org on December 7, Ciano says, “WMATA unions pay employees to shirk rather than work,” and goes on to say workers with seniority can “pick” their assignments.

You and I both know there is absolutely no truth to Ciano’s silly accusations. The fact is journeymen may select their report location but Metro managers assign the work. Plain and simple! In addition, less seasoned workers always work side-by-side with experienced journeymen. An apprentice never goes it alone.

Metro’s escalators keep breaking down because they were built for indoor use only, not outdoor exposure. And years of spotty upkeep have taken a toll. It’s only been within the last few months that Metro brought the repair work back in house. Our members are devoted to doing their part to care for the escalators. WMATA needs to back Local 689’s commitment with the necessary capital resources. Now, that’s the truth!
Ms. Jeter claims to speak the truth, but let's look a little more closely.

First, the original post was here, not at the Examiner or the Atlantic, Think Progress, Marginal Revolution or Infrastructurist.

Second, the faults of the "pick" system were not just made up out of thin air. They were cited in the most recent audit of Metro's escalator woes, as a critical problem. Back in 2002, the pick system was blamed for escalator dysfunction by a blue ribbon panel analysis of Metro's escalator woes, also commissioned by Metro. (Sorry, I only have a hard copy.)

This exhaustive report recommended Metro get out of the escalator management business altogether. Metro, of course, went the opposite way.

Third, escalator experts agree that Metro escalators which are exposed to weather are more vulnerable to breakdowns, but most of Metro's escalators are underground or under canopies, shielded from the elements, yet those are often down, too.

Fourth, Metro's ATU 689 workers have had responsibility for all, or at least a majority, of Metro's escalators since 1991, when they were handed over to Metro in what was seen at the time as a cost saving move.

So, it has not just been for the "last few months" as Ms. Jeter would have you believe.

The truth is that over the years, escalator responsibility has ebbed and flowed between Metro and outside contractors. To this day, for the really complicated fixes and major remodifications, contractors not belonging to Metro are called in.

Finally, take the example of the Dupont escalators, which were among the last five stations given back to Metro on July 1 of this year. No one will argue that those are old units, and in fact, they are scheduled to be replaced, but a mere two weeks after being handed over to Metro, there was a scary smoke incident caused by a problem with the escalators, which led to the dangerous fiasco in the video clip above.

Ms. Jeter will no doubt say her workers were handed poorly maintained escalators, and those maintaining them previously will say they gave the escalators the constant maintenance that was needed to keep the old units operating.

What do you think the truth is?

Other items:
Will there finally be some meaningful oversight? (Examiner)
Did you see the carolers? (WaPo)
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