What’s the Matter with Metro?, II

As I said in part one, Metro is a socialist organization. Of course we have many things that might be described as socialist in America – public schools, roads and highways, parks, and libraries for example. For the most part, they work pretty well – so, what is the matter with Metro? How is it different?

Like the employees at just about any large government agency, WMATA employees know that it will never, ever, get shut down. The nation’s capital – the federal government itself – depends upon Metro. The entire Washington, D.C., area would come to a screeching halt if Metro were shut down or service were reduced in any significant manner. That is a fact that no one disputes. So, consciously or not, everyone that works for Metro knows that they have the nation’s capital by the short hairs. “Don’t like our subway and/or bus service? Tough!”

Where ya gonna go?

Unfortunately, that attitude comes through quite frequently.
In addition, it is almost impossible to get (permanently) fired from Metro. Just one of many examples:

Shotgun Bill (name changed):

Shotgun Bill liked beer. He liked beer so much that he brought beer to work.
One day, Bill’s supervisor walked into the TCR while Bill was enjoying a 6 pack. The supervisor tried to be nice and suggested that Bill might want to call out sick and go home. Bill took exception to this and proceeded to rip the phone off the wall and hit the supervisor on the head with it, knocking him out. Then Bill gathered up the “evidence” – the cans and 6-pack holder (obviously this was years ago) and walked down the tunnel to an emergency exit or vent shaft. He went up to the street level, got his car, and went home.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the supervisor called the Transit Police who called the PG County police. Officers from both agencies went to Bill’s house. Bill opened the door with a shotgun in his hands. One of the cops wrestled the shotgun away from Bill. He was arrested and posted bail. The supervisor declined to press charges. I can’t recall whether Bill was fired or not, but I believe he was – for a while.
Last I knew, Shotgun Bill still worked for Metro – in another dept.

Because Metro management and employees know that Metro will never be shut down and it is almost impossible to be fired they sometimes develop a certain attitude. That is just human nature.
I’m not sure how to combat this. As I suggested above, Metro needs more ‘carrot’. As it is, there is no incentive to be conscientious, hard-working, and polite. Those that are have the strength of character to do the right thing regardless of the lack of encouragement.

The other serious issue is that Metro is truly the 51st State. The Tri-State Compact of 1967 gives WMATA almost complete sovereign immunity. Legally, Metro is the equivalent of a state – a state with no constitution, no legislature, no judiciary, and no governor – other than the WMATA Board. Metro can and does do just about whatever it wants – including killing its employees – with impunity. To be fair, any company with Worker’s Comp (WC) insurance can kill their employees without consequence. Spouses and/or dependents of the deceased employee cannot sue. They are often left with only a token amount from WC insurance.

There is essentially no oversight of WMATA. Years ago I became concerned about what we call “tunnel dust” – the fine black dust that permeates all of the underground stations. I contacted state and federal OSHA and EPA as well as my congressman’s office. I was told by both the EPA and OSHA (both MD & VA and federal) that they had no jurisdiction on WMATA property. I have at least one letter from OSHA confirming what I was told in my phone conversations. At my request, my congressman’s office contacted the WMATA Board and he received a letter in response that contained false claims. The board member who wrote (or at least signed) the letter claimed that all of the HVAC filters in the underground stations were changed monthly which we all knew was complete bs. In fairness, the board member may very well have been unknowingly repeating lies that he had been told but regardless, the Chairman of the WMATA Board made false statements to a United States Congressman – in writing. In addition, even if the filters were replaced regularly, they were/are the cheap fiberglass type filters that can only trap large dust balls. If you hold them up to the light you can see your hand through them – they are completely ineffective against tunnel dust. Passengers and employees alike breath this dust. It is a particular concern for employees like some ATC techs, custodians, and station managers that spend 8+ hours every day underground.

There are numerous examples like this of Metro simply ignoring OSHA and EPA regs.

Again, I wish I could offer a solution. I honestly can’t see Metro changing in any significant way as long as it is the 51st State.

As it is, they don’t need no stinkin’ badges.

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