Forced Overtime

The Washington Post recently published a “Doctor Gridlock” column about forced overtime at Metro.
The issue of forced overtime (OT) was one of many things that bothered me while I was an active employee.
WMATA would (and apparently still does) arbitrarily declare an “emergency” in order to be able to force people to work. In addition, they would often ignore the contract completely — with the tacit approval of Local 689 — by decreeing that all employees in certain departments MUST work arbitrary 12 hour shifts. There was no effort to use the OT list, and no use of reverse seniority (as required by the contract) — just a blanket proclamation that everyone had to work.
For President Obama’s Inauguration, the two 12 hour shifts were 0600 (6 am) to 1800 (6 pm) and 1800 to 0600 hours. The evening (PM) shift automatic train control (ATC) personnel were ordered to work the 1800 to 0600 shift, and the AM shift worked 0600 to 1800. Those on midnight shift could choose either shift. For most people on AM shift, 0600 to 1800 probably wasn’t too bad — come in an hour early, avoid traffic, stay 3 hours late, get home in time for dinner and get a good night’s sleep. For most PM shift personnel, being forced to work 1800 to 0600 was horrible — drive in to work at the worst possible time (evening rush hour), stay up all night, and then drive home sleep deprived through morning rush hour traffic.
If this forced OT was absolutely unavoidable that would be one thing, but it clearly was not.
I complained about it ahead of time, and Jackie Jeter (the president of ATU Local 689) signed a “Letter of Understanding” with someone in middle management that said essentially that Metro would only utilize _volunteers_ for the 12 hour shifts. That letter turned out to be worth it’s weight in tunnel dust. It was promptly ignored, without any protest from Local 689.
I refused to work and called in sick. I know a few others who did as well, but most went ahead and worked — presumably because they wanted/needed the OT and/or were afraid of the repercussions from calling in sick.
All management had to do was abide by the letter that they signed and follow the contract — offer 12 hour and/or double shifts to everyone on the OT list and then, if they _truly_ needed more people, utilize reverse seniority. Instead, they chose to make up their own rules and Local 689 let them get away with it.
Both the union and management should be forced to follow the contract. They already ‘interpret’ many sections of it however they want to, when it suits them. No good can come from allowing them even more leeway.
It is important for (most) people to have a regular schedule and get a reasonable amount of sleep every night. Metro’s own Safety dept has said that sleep deprivation is a serious problem. It is bad enough that Metro employees can potentially have their reporting location, shift, and/or days off change every 6 months (“Live and work in MD? Too bad, you’ve been bumped to Alexandria. Hit the road!”). For management to have the ability to arbitrarily assign workers to different shifts whenever they declare a bogus “emergency” is unacceptable and potentially unsafe.
What constitutes an emergency must be more strictly defined. To me, an emergency is an event that could not be foreseen — NOT scheduled events like the 4th of July, presidential Inaugurations, concerts, ball games, protest marches, or a storm that was forecast days in advance, etc. For purposes of the ‘Agreement’ (contract) between Local 689 and WMATA, an emergency might be defined as, “Any unforeseen event that negatively affects the safe & efficient operation of the Metrorail system.” Examples might be:
1) Derailments — either Metro rail car(s) or CSX.
2) A vehicle or debris on the tracks.
3) Fire.
4) Explosion.
5) Tunnel or station ceiling collapse.
6) Power failure.
7) Hazmat spill.
Even an equipment failure might even be described as an emergency, depending on the circumstances. I would agree that there are situations where it would be reasonable for OCC/MOC (Central or Maintenance Control) to request that personnel remain on site until the next shift arrives — but every effort should be made to get the relief personnel there ASAP.
A scheduled event does not fit any reasonable definition of the word ’emergency’.
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4 Responses to Forced Overtime

  1. ATC Mechanic says:

    At WMATA, emergencies can be scheduled!

    • It’s amazing how the position of Local 689 has radically changed in just 8 years. Here’s a statement from their blog last month:

      “Statement: Metro Leadership Would Rather Go to Court Than Be Serious About Metro Safety Culture”:

      “Metro continues to put the fatigue policy to the side when it suits them. Most recently, Metro disregarded the fatigue policy when it forced all Metro workers to work on Inauguration weekend without regard to it being their seventh day of work. Even those who did not volunteer to work overtime were required to work, regardless of how it would affect their family or personal needs.”

      That’s odd, because back in 2008, the union officers were not concerned at all about forced OT causing worker fatigue, sleep deprivation, an unsafe work environment, or how it might adversely affect employees’ personal lives.

      Back then, workers who expressed safety concerns and/or complained that the contract was being thrown out the window were essentially told to sit down and shut up.

      Local 689 went along with WMATA’s disingenuous claim that a planned event that happens every 4 years somehow constituted an “emergency”.

      Don’t get me wrong, the 2008 Inauguration was an historic event. It attracted a large number of people — but it was not an “emergency”. Large numbers of people routinely gather in D.C. — none of those events were/are ever declared to be “emergencies”. If extra coverage is needed, the usual procedure for assigning OT is followed.

      I’m glad to hear that union officers have done a complete 180 with their position on Chinese-style forced labor, but I have to wonder if they will be consistent when it comes to future Inaugurations and events.

      • ATC Mechanic says:

        Right now there are 4 groups of ATC technicians that are scheduled to work daily 12 hours. That’s 4 hours overtime on daily basis! L689 contract was bypassed and workers rights waived through “letter of understanding” signed between Jackie Jeter and WMATA management, without consulting workers themselves. WMATA so WMATA.

      • Another ‘letter of understanding’ huh? That’s always been the go-to whenever the established and mutually agreed upon rules and procedures do not suit one or both parties.

        Forced OT is a blatant contract violation — not to mention a serious safety issue — but hey, we have this here letter so it’s A-OK!

        OT is supposed to be assigned by seniority, period, but lookee here! We got us an LOU!

        All techs/mechanics that have a achieved a given grade get paid the same hourly rate (COMM; ATC; AFC; Power; ELES. etc) — unless management decides they need to pay one group ELES more, in which case — since it doesn’t affect operations — Local 689 signs another letter of understanding, and just like that, ELES techs are making $7-$8 more per hour. I hope the union got some sort of concession for that one.

        A big part of the problem is that Local 689 is essentially an operators’ union. I wouldn’t expect anything else. After all, the union is operated like a democracy — well, sort of — and there are far more employees in operations than in M&C. I’ll bet if management wanted a similar OT arrangement involving operators and/or station managers, the union would be much more reluctant to sign off on it. But because it involves the ‘ugly step-children in ATC’ they really couldn’t care less.

        I came to the conclusion years ago that M&C should have its own union. It’s simply unrealistic to expect one union to equally and fairly represent the vast majority of employees at WMATA. To be fair, I’m sure if the tables were turned and the membership was mostly M&C employees, operators would not always be treated fairly. It’s human nature. It is not unusual for an industry to have several unions. The airlines are just one example.

        The thing is, even if a majority of M&C employees voted to leave the ATU and go with another union, Local 689 would have to agree to let M&C go. They will never do that because a) all unions want to maximize their membership, and b) M&C is the Golden Goose. Because all pay is tied to “Top Operator” pay (Helper = 90% of top operator rate), and Metro is forced to compete with private for techs and mechanics, that forces top operator pay to remain high. If M&C left, WMATA would be under no pressure to raise operator pay.

        At the end of the day, we know what the problem is, but there’s not much that can be done about it. M&C employees have to hope that Local 689 officers have a sense of fairness and treat people how they would like to be treated. Sadly, situations like the one you described are all too common.

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