The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689, Metro’s largest union, says there is culture of retaliation and disciplinary actions being placed upon employees at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). At a press conference on Jan. 4, ATU repeatedly discussed how WMATA employees are being “scapegoated” to take the fall for WMATA’s neglect to a safety culture.
“Paul Wiedefeld is putting out notices to the press to say that the real problem is falsification by records, that’s what’s causing the safety issues at WMATA,” said Lawrence Hanley, international president of ATU. “That is just another form of intimidation. He is firing people at the bottom of the food chain and leaving alone the people that have created the culture that allows Washington residents to be killed.”
In December, WMATA announced that they were in the process of taking disciplinary actions involving 28 individuals following a train derailment at East Falls Church in July which injured several people. With 73 percent of WMATA employees being African-American, this will be leaving most of them either out of work, suspended or possibly even demoted.
“I’m familiar with tactics used by people like those who sit on the board of WMATA, calling workers shiftless, calling workers unprepared; it’s a transit lynching,” said the Rev. Lionel Edmonds, co-founder of Washington Interfaith Network. “It’s a demonizing of people who belong to communities of color who bought into the American dream.”
Trap Thomas, a former track worker at WMATA, to spoke at the news conference about his experience working with the system. According to Thomas, he was called into his supervisor’s office Jan. 4 and fired for falsifying records. Thomas denies that he falsified records and said he has tried to bring attention to defects, dating back as far as 2011. “I found plenty of times that the only way that maintenance came out to fix anything, no matter how bad I said it was, is if I slowed the trains down,” said Thomas, a 9-year veteran of Metro. “There is a culture of retaliation. They do it in such a way where it can’t be proven exactly as retaliation but everybody gets it.”
In response to AFRO inquiries, Metro referred to the December press release that stated that disciplinary actions from a train derailment were taken against specific employees.
Thomas now faces the struggle of most people once they lose their job. He has to find money to support his children and pay bills.
Rodney Hawkins, a Metro track worker, also spoke of problems for employees and offered possible solutions to some problems. Hawkins said the employees aren’t properly trained, that there is conflict between management and his collogues, and that a better inspection could occur if there were two inspectors instead of one.
The ATU released a report that included anecdotes of the disciplinary actions and retaliations Metro employees have endured. According to the report, a supervisor was so afraid to report an injury that she worked with a broken ankle, and an equipment operator requesting additional flagging was sent for a drug test. The report also claimed that track employees repeatedly say they are often afraid to challenge management about track defects or speak about safety concerns for fear of retribution.