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Union leaders sometimes invoke racial language, including Mrs. Jeter, who heads the $20 million union with her husband, Roland Jeter, second in command. Graphics on the union’s website have depicted her in her role as union president alongside photos of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

A flier circulated as Mrs. Jeter was running for election claimed she worried that “too many whites might end up in charge. She also told me she was sick and tired of hearing about the Latino Caucus.”

When a worker says he or she has been treated unfairly by Metro, the union membership holds a vote to decide whether to defend the worker, typically obtaining reductions in punishment from management for or voting to take to arbitration more than 40 complaints monthly.

Court records show that a white woman, Denise Brooks, was fired after her wallet was stolen from an area accessible only to employees. She reported the theft, then asked to modify the report to better reflect the contents of her wallet after checking bank records. A supervisor said the update amounted to lying and fired her, a move that ultimately was overturned.

When Mrs. Brooks brought problems about the way she was being treated to the union, records show, the membership voted twice to deny her grievances.

Court records show many of those who get into trouble at Metro for fighting, drugs and the like and have disciplinary actions reversed at the union’s behest, meanwhile, already have documented track records of similar behavior. A newsletter boasts, for example, that the union won reinstatement with back pay for a train operator if she completed a drug class. But a search of her name in criminal records indicates that far from this being an isolated incident, the woman has a well-documented drug and theft problem.

“That was a court problem, not a Metro problem,” Mrs. Jeter said, adding that it wasn’t the union’s job to address professionalism — that is done by performance reviews that reward the best workers with raises. “Professionalism is rewarded when you get your paycheck.”