“Yeah.” That was Metro worker Sidney Davis’ response when I asked if the transit agency is being sabotaged from within.
Another Metro worker, Tracey Davis, said the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) lacks “consciousness of safety,” and that the culture to tell employees to do the right thing “isn’t ongoing” or “constant.”
A third employee, Metrobus driver Frank Rawlings, said WMATA and his union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, “have to get our input, [which is] central to our [regional] tourism and revenue.”
That these employees willingly risked their jobs to speak so openly speaks volumes. Ms. Davis, for instance, is a rail operator and sacrificial lamb who was fired last year. Her arbitration is scheduled for later this month, when a union-paid lawyer is supposed to have her back. Mr. Rawlings and Mr. Davis (no relation to Ms. Davis) are veteran bus drivers who also question whether the union works for Metro or whether Metro follows dictates from the union.
Meanwhile, the public simply wants to know who is being held accountable for the frightening, deadly incidents that have occurred recently and what is being done to fix the nagging and persistent problems with Metro.
As you probably already know, Metrorail is being hammered by the White House, Congress and various federal agencies and D.C.-area authorities. They all are trying to get on the same paragraph, on the same page in a book that has no title. About all they have agreed on at this juncture is that Metro has been crippled and needs to be made whole again.
The linchpin is the union.
ATU Local 689’s current contract expires in June, when Metro’s make-‘em-whole-again plan begins. What Local 689 seeks and what Local 689 gets in order to implement that plan are, well, unknown. Local 689 is hush-hush.
But consider Local 689’s membership — Metrorail and Metrobus workers. Its members include station managers, clerical and maintenance workers and Circulator and MetroAccess employees. Its members also include retired Metro workers and many of the 600 or so “managers and supervisors” who met with General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld on Tuesday. In other words, thousands and thousands of Metro’s 13,000-employee workforce.
All of which leads to the burning bush question — or should I say burning bushes?
Local 689 has reinforced its power now that its president and the president of the Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO are one and the same person. Her name is Jackie Jeter. (Union members complained that she has been unreachable and “out of the country” in recent weeks. I left messages for her concerning both her hats.)
So, moving right along, Metro is trying to right the many wrongs that have plagued the system because WMATA functions amid so many financial and political silos.
Metrorail is its own silo, and Metrobus is a solo silo too.
Virginia wants what it wants when it wants it. Ditto Maryland. Ditto D.C. Those are the Big 3.
The smaller ones are Virginia’s Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church, Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun. Maryland’s Prince George’s, Frederick and Montgomery counties. The eight wards in the District. Each of those jurisdictions gets to decide bus route names, Metro station names and Metro designations. (Commercial and residential property benefits are at stake (wink, wink).
Of course, the grand poobahs, Congress and the White House, have their coveted silos as well. After all, they created the multiheaded albatross we now call Metro.
The union, meanwhile, has yet to pull its membership together to explain where they are and where they’re heading.
It’s like one of those “dead spots” that Mr. Davis mentioned inside Metrorail tunnels. There is no communication up or down the chain of command, and lateral communication is just as bad from the union.
Be mindful and be fair though. Employees who have a grudge against their employer are one thing. Employees who have a grudge against their union are another. Employees who are trying to open their employer’s eyes by slamming their union deserve their employer’s attention.
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.