- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Metro unjustly fired some of the parking-lot cashiers accused of stealing millions of dollars in parking fees, according to the union representing 15 of the 33 former transit-system workers.

Emil Abate, secretary-treasurer of the Parking and Service Workers Union Local 27, said during a press conference in front of Metro headquarters that there is not enough evidence to justify the firings.

“Metro and the media have played prosecutor, jury and judge as it concerns [the former employees],” Mr. Abate said. “Our system of justice requires each and every individual cashier to be judged as innocent until proven otherwise.”

An internal Metro audit shows losses of $500,000 to $1 million a year from cash payments made at parking lots and garages, which are operated by the privately owned firm Penn Parking.

Thirty-three employees were fired, and two face felony theft charges.

Mr. Abate said the 15 workers his union is representing want a fair hearing and are seeking to regain their jobs. He said that Metro General Manager Richard A. White agreed to meet with union officials March 19.

Metro Board member Jim Graham, a Democrat who represents Ward 1 on the D.C. Council, attended the news conference and said the issue is “a matter of fundamental fairness.”

“These are employees, many of whom are making less than $8 an hour, who have been summarily dismissed, in many cases with no information why,” Mr. Graham said. “As we get to the bottom of this, [Metro] has to be especially careful that we are fair to those involved.”

Mr. Graham said Penn Parking — whose representatives said Metro was made aware of the situation nearly four years ago — was not absolved of responsibility by merely informing transit officials of the mismanagement of funds.

“If Penn Parking was aware of the problem since 2000, as well as month after month since, my question is: What did Penn Parking do [to rectify the problem]?” he said.

Metro officials did not perform an audit until last year, acting on an anonymous tip.

The Washington Post first reported the parking-fees thefts last week.

Metro officials said they publicly released the 18-page audit on Friday because of the numerous requests and high interest — even though internal audits are exempt from disclosure under its policy on public access to records.

The audit includes a calculation in which actual revenue shortfalls at four stations over the course of 48 days came to $29,738.

The audit estimates that Metro could see an annual parking revenue shortfall of about $500,000 to $1 million.

Metro officials have said they documented improper money handling and administrative procedures using surveillance and other equipment.

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