Rearranging the Deck Chairs

One of the things that remained constant during my 27 years at Metro was that management — typically middle management — would periodically become hyper-focused on something that was inconsequential, while the system continued to fall apart around them.

This was sort of cyclical and often a reaction to an isolated incident.  For example, the Halon fire suppression system in the Glenmont Yard (B98) train control room (TCR) was accidentally triggered by some smoke coming from a microwave oven.  The microwave happened to belong to an employee, rather than WMATA.  Within a day or two the proclamation came down — no more personal microwaves or coffee makers would be allowed on Metro property — well, at least not in TCRs, everywhere else was apparently ok.  Why coffee makers were added to the list remains a mystery.  It made no sense at all.  An employee over-heated his food.  Had the microwave been a WMATA issued one the same thing would likely have happened.  Many TCRs were then left without a microwave or coffee maker, which simply encouraged techs to leave the property to get food and coffee.  Not the best reaction on the part of management.

Uniforms were another periodic concern, although that varied from one dept to the next.  For example, for a long time, many of the Shady Grove yard (A99) car maint. (CMNT) mechanics usually didn’t wear their Metro uniform.  The accepted Summer attire was jeans or work pants and a solid T-shirt (no slogans or illustrations).  We began to follow their lead.  That was apparently ok for a couple years but then there was a big crack down — everyone in ATC (but not CMNT) was ordered to wear their uniform, even when we were at A99 and out of the public eye.  One winter I was in the A99 TCR and Fady Basilly came in.  Some of you may remember Basilly — he was the upper management guy who decreed that henceforth all trains would be operated in automatic, no exceptions.  That order resulted in Operator Callands being killed when his train hit a parked train behind Shady Grove station (A15) during a blizzard.  His train brakes weren’t working properly and he begged Central Control (OCC) to let him run manual but they said no because they were afraid of Basilly.  Shortly after Callands was killed and people started asking questions Basilly moved to Greece.  But I digress…he entered the TCR with a toady (complete with clipboard) and began asking questions — “Whose radio is that?”  “Are those your newspapers?”  “Where is your uniform?”  I explained that since it was winter, whenever we went outside we wore our Metro-issued insulated orange coveralls and therefore  no one could tell whether we were in uniform or not.  I also told him that I didn’t have my uniforms because I was recently married and had gotten fat, and I had to turn in my uniforms to get a larger size.  That got a chuckle out of him so I thought maybe I was in the clear.  Then about 1/2 hour after he left I got a phone call from my supervisor telling me that I had to sign a “foreman’s report” — Basilly had told him to write me up, after laughing and smiling and shaking my hand.

The vehicles were another issue that would pop up from time to time.  Usually what would trigger it was that an employee would get caught using a Metro truck for personal business.  Then the memos would start flying and we’d have to fill out inspection sheets and log mileage, fuel level, etc.  After a few weeks it would all be forgotten and we’d go back to just using the vehicles when we needed them without having to fill out a bunch of paperwork to drive (literally) 3 or 4 miles.

Then there were the periodic inspections.  They usually resulted in a flurry of pointless activity.  Cleaning and dusting TCR’s that would be covered in ‘tunnel dust’ again within days.  Attempting to hide ‘unsightly’ equipment.  Throwing away perfectly good parts and supplies because whoever was going to be inspecting expected every train yard to look like a nice park.  It was just ridiculous.

One time, a manager riding a train saw some trash along the tracks near Fort Totten (B06) and mentioned it to his underling.  Next thing we knew several of us we were told to stop what we were doing immediately and report to B06.  My crew was in the middle of doing a switch obstruction PMI (preventive maint. inspection) at Glenmont (B11).  A switch maint. PMI is a critical safety and reliability related PMI but somehow picking up trash was more important.  It had to be done that very moment.  Then, when we got there, there was very little actual trash (cans & bottles, paper, etc).  There was however a bunch of Track Dept supplies — running rail, third rail covers, insulators, large busted shipping crates — nothing we could move or do anything about.  Our assumption was that the manager saw the Track Dept stuff and referred to it as ‘trash’ because this is all we found — spread over a very large area:

I don’t have any problem picking up trash, I got paid no matter what, but management often had a hard time with the concept of prioritizing.

Every once in a while there would be money left over at the end of the fiscal year.  We all know how that goes — use it or lose it.  Sometimes there was so much money that management couldn’t spend it all on themselves, so we would get new furniture or lots of pointless OT.

Speaking of furniture, we often had ratty hand-me-down furniture but every so often we could get something nice from another dept.  We had one (relatively) nice office chair that we had borrowed from the control tower.  Our supervisor’s boss came into the TCR one day, saw the chair, and declared that it was too nice for us and ordered one of the techs to immediately take the chair to his office!  We headed that off at the pass by calling the tower and asking them to contact the manager and let him know that it was their chair and they’d like it back.

Here is a typical piece of TCR furniture:

Note the aluminum splice under the arm.

Yep, public employees are spoiled.

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6 Responses to Rearranging the Deck Chairs

  1. I don’t know how you lasted for 27 years. The politics are dizzying.

  2. midmented says:

    I’ve worked in different government agencies for a total of 24 years. One thing I’ve noticed is the political craziness which happens at management levels. The causes vary from “the big boss is coming for a visit”, how the rules and regulations are interpreted, some type of inspection is near, upper management requests with time frames, someone in upper management having a “passion” or pet peeve, bad communication, and someone in middle management trying to reach upper management. That is the short list. L I’ve a thousand stories almost the same as the one above. The best supervisors/managers I’ve ever had in government positions are those whom have “went up the ladder” and had experienced the work they are now supervising/managing. For some reason, these are the supervisors and managers always in hot water!

    • Great comment midmented, very perceptive.

      In fact, your observations have inspired at least one new post!

      At Metro, how rules & regs — especially safety rules — are interpreted often caused problems, as did bad communication.

      I agree that generally speaking, the best supervisors are those that have worked in the same position as those they are supervising. There were a few supervisors who stood up to their bosses, but it seemed that most just ‘went along to get along’. One of the guys that spoke truth to power went from AA technician to supervisor (which is typical) but then went _back_ to AA! He did that because he got caught in the crossfire between two of his bosses who were both competing for the same job and used him as a pawn. I’m going to post about that.

      There were a couple other supervisors who went back to being techs because they just couldn’t take the abuse and ridiculous expectations. The pay was only about 5% more than AA tech pay, and many techs who work OT made/make more than supervisors.

      You know there’s something seriously wrong when supervisors bail out and ‘go back to their tools’. Similar to what I’ve written about the “seniority in grade/group” pick system. Many technicians remain helpers or stay in the B/C group because the disadvantages of upgrading outweigh the advantages. If a tech upgrades they often have a worse pick of work location/shift/days off. When a AA becomes a supervisor, they have a lot more responsibility and are stuck between middle management and their former coworkers. They are expected to go to meetings bright and early at 6:30 or 7 am, regardless of where they live, where they work, or what shift they work.

      At Metro, there is an incentive to ‘stay down’, to not promote.

  3. Hi Trina,

    I don’t know how I lasted 27 years either!

    When I was first hired I was 22 years old and fresh out of college. I figured I’d work for Metro for maybe 2 years and then look for something else. After 2 years went by I realized that there wasn’t anyplace else where I would make nearly as much money and have the benefits and job security that Metro offered so I stuck around. After about 5 or 6 years I started thinking about moving to the Southern Rockies but jobs there were (and are) very scarce. Long story short I ended up sticking it out because it just didn’t make any sense to start over somewhere else. It would have meant giving up most of my pension, my vacation (about 5 weeks per year), accrued sick leave (maybe 6 months worth), and taking less pay.

    I’m glad I stayed but there were a lot of tough times when I began to think it wasn’t worth it.

  4. midmented says:

    The years pass by fast and before you know it, you’re locked into a job you only tolerate because of the significant loss it would cause. There are very few people I know that can say they throughly enjoy their job. It’s sad for so many to go through life hating to get up in the morning feeling like they are “dragging” themselves to work. Hey, like me and my wife! L

    • Sad but true.

      I recall reading that only 20% of people truly like their job.

      Actually, when I first started at Metro it was often interesting and fun. It was something new — learning how the movement of trains is controlled automatically — and I enjoy troubleshooting and fixing problems. It was often management that made the job difficult. So much of what we heard from management (not supervisors so much, but their bosses) was negative. If someone went out of their way to do a good job there was rarely so much as a thank you. At times it seemed that they thought their purpose in life (or at least at Metro) was to make us miserable. ‘People skills’ were in short supply.

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