Metro workers’ union moves to cut exposure to safety hazards
ATU workers for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), ATU website.

WASHINGTON (PAI) — With workers on Metro, the troubled mass transit system in the Nation’s Capital, increasingly exposed to safety hazards on the job, the workers’ union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, is moving to protect them.

And it’s also speaking out against a trial balloon, floated by the system’s board chair, for a federal takeover of Metro – a takeover that would have let the feds dump union contracts, fire workers and cut service even more. Even the area’s business lobby shot that down, too.

The union’s move comes as Metro’s new general manager, Jack Weidefeld, cut service hours and closed sections of the subway line – in the nation’s second-busiest subway system – to give workers more hours to overcome decades of deferred maintenance.

But even as they do so, they’re at risk. That led ATU Local 689 President Jackie Jeter and Vice President Raymond Jackson to announce and elaborate on the protection initiative.

The “Safety Solidarity Surge” will include not just the Local 689 members but also members of two other unions, Office and Professional Employees Local 2 and Teamsters Local 992, that represent Metro’s 13,000 workers, combined.

Its first step was “refresher training” on all Metro’s required safety operating procedures to the unions’ shop stewards. “Then those officers will be going throughout the system to instruct the workforce on making sure they follow every procedure without exception,” they said.

That would prevent such recent incidents as a train narrowly missing three workers on an adjacent track, trains running red “stop” signals, speeding and forcing workers to toil without protective gear.

In past years, Metro management has blamed the workers for the safety failures, including one fatal accident and a fire in a tunnel and station that killed one commuter. Federal probes later found that faulty, aged and non-working equipment, not the workers, were at fault.

Jackson told the Metro board that “until we change the culture here,” the workers are “going to keep having the same issues that” they faced before.

“Whenever I come across someone who tries to blame Local 689 for all of Metro’s problems, I have to remind them that for years we have been calling for an effective safety culture and dedicated funding for our region’s transit system. Securing dedicated funding will make sure that the system gets the much needed maintenance and upgrades it needs to be a world-class system,” Jeter added in a blog post.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.