D.C. Metro union leader chats with concerned riders

Jun 21, 2011

Jackie Jeter chatted with D.C. Metro riders about the first ever town hall meeting that the D.C. Metro Union held, which took place on Monday. Jeter answered your questions and addressed your concerns about the D.C. Metro, and talk about what happened at the town-hall meeting.

Do you have more to say? Metro riders, Metro workers: tell us about the state of Metro.

Thank you for joining us in today’s chat with union president Jackie Jeter. Today she’s going to answer questions about customer relations, safety concerns, Metro’s funding and fare issues.

Hello Post Readers

Ready to start talking and answering questions!

What percentage of the total revenues of the metro system are spent on salaries/wages?

I'm not in a position of answering that question but you can attend the Metro Board hearings and ask that question of the Metro Board or the General Managers office.

Whatever happened to the contest to have to select a person to do a voice over to pre-recorded station stop announcements? I see many blind people using the metro and have seen them have to count stops since they (and everyone else) cannot understand the train operators.

Whenever Metro enters into a new contest they have the contest.  The radios on the older cars do make it difficult to hear the announcements but individuals with handcaps have a system for finding thier way.

The operator who killed two track workers near the Eisenhower station was allegedly chattering on her cell phone, and another worker was killed by a second distracted operator. Why does your union continue to protect such incompetents?

The operator involved in the first incident is no longer working here.  I don't know what other incident your speaking of but unions are supposed to defend workers contractual rights. 

How do you guys feel about sites whose sole purpose it is to criticize DC Metro, like unsuckdcmetro.com? Do you read these and take things they post into consideration, or do you consider them an all around annoyance?

I consider what they are saying but I think that some of those who comment unfairly characterize the incidents.

Who is responsible for monitoring the crowded platforms and stopping the escalators so that people are not stuck on moving escalators that deliver them to over-crowded platforms leading to dangerous situations? I've had this happen to me twice at Farragut West and Foggy Bottom.

When platforms are crowded, transit is called for crowd control. The Station Manager knows when they should act.

Union Station is a terminal point for the X8, D8, and 97 routes. There is ongoing traffic gridlock arising from tour buses illegally parking, from cabs and other cars leaving the drop off and boarding points, and from high pedestrian traffic principally being hill staffers coming from the Capitol. Buses departing and ariving Union Station are often off schedule and consequently drivers can't maintain their schedule and passengers miss connections and appointments. How can Metro including the various police forces better contol traffic flow?

Capital Hill or Metropolitan police have the responsibility to control the traffic.

The Orange line is packed in the morning. Trains often stop between stations because they are run so closely together. Where are you planning on putting the additional silver line riders since running additional trains and adding cars are not options?

The additional line will take some of the flow of traffic and spread it out more.

Do you see a day when the Metro can operate at a profit, and if so, what will it take to make the Metro operate without subsidies?  (Incidentally, I favor subsidies and believe more people should ride an expanded Metro. Yet, I am not certain if it can operate without subsidies, or am I wrong?)

Public transportation should be for the public and we will never be able to afford good transportation without it.  Everything must be on the table concerning how we get our money , making it more profitable.

Wouldnt tax payers be better served and riders receive better service if Metro outsourced all its union jobs? Most of Metro's union employees are overpaid and just dont work that hard. it would be cheaper for tax payers if these jobs were outsourced and made non union.

Think about what you are saying.  Workers are not good or bad because they belong to the union.  Unions have made it possible for all workers to have better working conditions and better benefits.  Just the fact that you as a non-union employee enjoy your two days off or your overtime pay or your weekends, is because of the union. I think tax payers have some real issues, and going after union workers is not paramount. 

A woman was eating on the train. When I mentioned it to a WMATA employee as he passed and asked him to enforce the rules or call a Transit officer he said "You do it." This attitude of "Not my problem" is endemic to your union employees (and I'm a union person myself). What are you doing to fix it?

I think that two things are true.  One-bad employees are bad whether thier union or not.  Two-Metro has a history of ignoring the good deeds or it employees and it is not doing enough to strengthen the culture which makes people want to go the extra yard. Plus a strong work ethic is nurtured. 

Is the Union willing to accept an across the board pay freeze now to help keep costs steady and do its part to avoid a fare increase?I imagine a pay freeze alone would not keep fares constant but is the Union willing to accept no pay increase to show it shares the repsonibility to lower costs?

The amount of what members are paid is negotiated and they have taken the concession during negotiations. When Metro rains in the other identified waste, we'll talk about it when they choose to negotiate.

Can you please ask your metro drivers to speak more politely to passengers? So many times I hear them bark "don't block the doors, or I will put this train out of service". It sounds so vindictive. Something along the lines of "please don't interfere with the closing of the doors, this damages the mechanism to a point were they may not close properly. If they don't close properly, we cannot move and will have to offload the entire train here and bring it to the repair yard. Just imagine being stuck on the platform with 500 angry fellow commuters. Now let's try this again...."

I'll take that suggestion and pass it on to my members.

I read that last year 72 or so Metro employees were fired for really dangerous things like texting while driving. And they were all reinstated at the end of the year because the union fought for them. How do you justify this kind of thing? I deal with so many incompetent, rude, aggressive, lazy Metro employees every day, so I can only imagine the terrible things you have to do to get fired.

Oh, here's a reference. So it's 87. And that's just the bus drivers.

Well, there are over 8,000 union members and if you like anything about the system that's also them. I don't think your 72 number is correct and Metro has a responsibilty to fire people correctly.  They hire and fire, we represent.

It seems like between WMATA's hiring of Dan Stessel in its Communications department, and ATU 689's town hall meeting last night and this live chat, Metro leadership on both sides of the aisle seems to be stepping up to at least open a dialog with riders and the community. Is this a collaborative effort, or just serendipity? What can we do to keep the lines of communication (union <--> riders <--> management) open?

Well its not collaborative because we didn't talk about it but I think all of us realize that its important to have an open dialogue with the riders and public.  And we intend to do more townhall meetings to hear your views, we are using the social media platforms and you can follow us on Twitter.

You were asked about specific cases before, but in general - in a case where there is employee misconduct that warrants termination, and WMATA management correctly follows the disciplinary process, what is your position?

Our process is the member has the right to file a grievance and it is taken through the steps,  if it is not resolved it is recommended to drop or arbitrate and the members vote on taking those cases to arbitration or dropping them.  I only vote to break a tie.

What do you say to people who believe transit worker salaries are too high?

Their salaries commensurate with their skills and they provide a valuable service to the public,  like police and firemen. 

On average, per year, how many ATU-689 workers are successfully fired/let go? If this number is significantly lower than in the private sector, can you explain the discrepancy?

ATU Local 689 workers come to work and do their job. If you have a complaint contact Metroscustomer service center. 

You said "Think about what you are saying, workers are not good or bad because they belong to the union. ... I think tax payers have some real issues and going after union workers is not paramount. " Do you recognize that some Union workers are bad and need to go? Don't you think that us in the public would support you more if you stopped supporting some of the bad apples?

I don't support bad behavior.  There are those that are fired that you don't hear about.  We don't protect good or bad people, we protect the contract that both sides sign and proclaim they will go by.

Is it true that if a union member fails as a bus driver they get promoted to a train operator (where their record is expunged) and if they fail as a train operator they're promoted to station manager (where their record is expunged)? Why is this type of "failing up" allowed?

No that's not true.

In This Chat
Jackie Jeter
Jackie L. Jeter is President and Business Agent of the more than 10,000-member ATU Local 689. The members of Local 689, including working and retired employees, elected Jackie to the union’s top leadership position in December 2006. She took office in January 2007, making history as the first African American woman to head the local since its founding nearly 100 years ago.
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