Photo by zach kowalczyk on Flickr.
Jackie Jeter, President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, sent us this response to an article in the Washington Examiner regarding overtime pay. We reported on the Examiner’s article in a breakfast link on Monday.
As President of Local 689, the union representing almost 11,000 active and retired WMATA employees, it is my duty to respond to public accusations that impugn the reputation of our members or our union.
According to the he Examiner’s article, TOC Chairman Matt Bassett believes “the agency has not been able to successfully negotiate more time with the operators (sic) union,” but it should be noted that WMATA has not proposed the extension of time off to the union.
The only mention was a proposal in the WMATA package which was never fully vetted or discussed during the last round of negotiations in 2008. That proposal has not been brought up since then.
Currently we have a required 8 hours off in a day, which comes from the FTA/DOT recommendations. The assignment of overtime is performed by management, not the union. Mr. Bassett and the union have never spoken about time off or the safety climate at WMATA, but most importantly, it is ATU Local 689 (the union) which holds WMATA’s feet to the fire concerning 8 hours off in a 24 hour period as required under our contract.
In a Greater Greater Washington morning links post, it was reported that Mr. Bassett made this statement: “that you (TOC) would like to increase time off between shifts for Metro operators to allow 8 hours of sleep but has met resistance from the ATU (the union), since members are cashing in on overtime.” It is important to the union that statements such as this one, made in jest or by those unfamiliar with the functioning of WMATA, be exposed either as errors or intentional misstatements for nefarious purposes.
The union has not resisted any conversation regarding an attempt to govern overtime. I think it wise, as a public official for Mr. Bassett to familiarize himself with the process for negotiating our union contract before making statements that can be construed by the public as accurate. His misstatements cast a questionable light on the intentions and good faith dealings of the union and cast a pall over its members.
Lisa Farbstein’s statement, “The agency is filling vacancies and hiring more employees. But in the meantime, staffing shortfalls means extra cash and long days for some workers,” is similarly problematic to me. Farbstein’s statement encourages readers to assume that the agency has no structure for workers, as they “happily” make extra cash and work from sun up to sun down!
It is crucial for readers to understand that the maintenance track work being performed is hard, manual labor that shortens the work life of our members even if they are lucky enough to escape injury. And right now, Metro is trying hard to run an efficient agency and make repairs to an aging system at the same time.
Finally, it should be noted that train operators play a very small part in this type of overtime work which raises the question: Why the inquiry into overtime costs? Again, accuracy is the issue. I must put this in the proper perspective: Only 1 out of the 10 employees mentioned in the Examiner article was a union worker and none were bus operators, train operators, or station managers. The 1 union worker was from the skilled crafts.
The union cannot be accused of opposing workplace safety rules in order to boost income without speaking out. That inference is not true! Union members are guaranteed 40 hours of work a week. Anything over 40 hours a week is overtime. That overtime is scheduled by WMATA management, not the union. When union members work overtime to accommodate extraordinary demands on the public transit system for travel downtown during the 4th of July or other public events, no articles appear in the newspaper the following day alluding to misappropriate use of manpower.
Additionally, a hiring freeze that was imposed last year to prevent a higher budget gap, which would result in a reduction in service. The railroad has continued to function because it is our job to make sure every customer gets home safely.
For safe, efficient, and effective travel on our public transit system, manpower must be used. Union members take time away from their families to ensure the safety and reliability of the Metro system for Virginia, Maryland, and DC residents and their families. Overtime is often required to get the job done and to keep the system working. WMATA employees are hired to do their jobs.